Keeping Youth Engaged in Outdoor Play

In the last two decades, childhood has moved indoors. Each day, the average American boy or girl spends as few as 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor play and more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen.  Is it any wonder that childhood obesity rates have more than doubled in the past 20 years? 

One solution:  more active playtime outdoors.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 60 minutes daily of unstructured free play as an essential part of children’s physical and mental health, and social development.  Here are five benefits of outdoor play time for children.

1. Improved Vision 

A study reported by Optometry and Vision Science found that children who spend time outside have better distance vision than those who primarily play indoors.

2. Increased Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps prevent future bone problems, diabetes and even heart disease and comes naturally through sunlight.  Limit direct exposure through use of sunscreen. 

3. Increased Concentration and Creativity

Children who play outside are more creative in their play, less aggressive, and show better concentration.

4. Improved Fitness

Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, an important strategy in helping the one in three American kids who are obese get fit.

5. Reduced Stress and Anxiety

Yes, children experience stress.  Their stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.

Here are five fun ways to build more outdoor time for the children in your life.

1. Spend time outdoors, regardless of the weather

The right gear makes it possible to be outside regardless of the weather.  Many children love to play in mud puddles or build snow structures just as they enjoy digging for worms or kicking a ball. 

2. Bring indoor activities outside

Let kids do their homework outside.  Bring a picnic dinner to a park.  Read or play board games in the yard.  Provide chalk for sidewalk art. 

3. Use electronics wisely

Take photos of flowers or animal track with a smartphone to identify later.  Download an app to identify stars and constellations. Try geocaching, a high-tech treasure hunt where users search for treasures or "caches" using a GPS device or smartphone to find the correct location. 

4. Create an outdoor scavenger hunt

Create a handout of things to locate (or find one online at Go Explore Nature or the National Wildlife Federation.) 

5. Provide supervision but step back

Given the chance to use their imagination, children can invent games, create a chipmunk house, build a hideaway under the deck or behind the garage, hunt for bugs, or explore a rotten log.

Along with milk and vegetables, kids need a steady diet of rocks and worms.  Rocks need skipping.  Holes need digging.  Water needs splashing.  Bugs and frogs and slimy stuff need finding. – Ad from Go RVing

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Monthly Messages are brought to you by the Tompkins County Youth Services Department, a proud partner of The Community Coalition for Healthy Youth.  

If you have further questions or comments about this message or would like information on how to become involved with the Community Coalition for Healthy Youth, please email ahendrix@tompkins-co.org

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