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  • Bearfoot OT

Why should your kid play outdoors?

By Noémie von Kaenel, OTS and Bearfoot OT

Five hours of Zoom.

Back to back meetings.

Barely time for a snack or to go to the bathroom.

Haven’t been outside all day (looks nice out there, eh?).

Haven’t moved from the chair since this morning.

Tired eyes.

Brain overwhelm (what did they say again?).

Screen time overload.

Sound familiar?

It might.

If you’re a parent whose work-life now exists in the space between Zoom meetings and staring at your screen, you know EXACTLY how this feels. And you might be getting used to it.

But your kid? Your kid isn’t supposed to be good at this.

And yet the scene above is exactly what most kids’ school days have looked like for the past year.

More screens, less green

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us to lead a less active, mostly indoor life. There are so many other factors too: keeping up with constantly changing states of the world, learning new technology, limitations to seeing friends and family, and being too busy to get exercise. The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened problematic trends including:

  1. Children now spend between five to seven hours sitting still in front of a screen, when older generations at their age, would be running around in the woods⁷

  2. Elementary schools have reduced their recess time down to 15-30 minutes to cover more school work, which is not enough outdoor time to enjoy the benefits³ ⁷

  3. Zoom breaks aren't long enough to allow for longer chunks of off-screen time, enough time to take a breath of fresh air or run around outside.

How are children supposed to make connections with others and their environment when their school day consists of looking at little boxes on the screen?

Or when recess is an indoor activity following along to a Go Noodle video?

That’s not gonna make the cut.

Limited opportunities for outdoor time means fewer chances for being in nature - something that has been proven by countless studies to have incredible benefits for kids.

Recognizing the benefits of nature for kids

The U.S. is going through a much-needed culture shift to embrace the outdoors and recognize its clear benefits¹³. Many countries have been doing so for decades through the forest or nature-based schools, recess outdoors, field trips to parks, skiing, camping, and more.

Simply stepping outdoors, breathing in clean air, and absorbing the sun’s vitamin D not only improves our overall sense of wellbeing but also increases our attention and reduces depression, anxiety, and stress¹ ³ ⁴. Being in nature helps children’s development, is educational, and can help promote life skills and social skills.

If you’re a skimmer, click here for the infographic. If you want the nitty-gritty details, read on!

How does nature benefit kids?

Nature helps children develop motor development skills, social development skills including playing skills, and personal development including cognitive skills. Let’s dive!

Motor Development Skills

Think about the last time you saw your kid at the playground or on a hike.

  • Did your child jump with excitement or run around?

That’s working on motor coordination of both sides of their body, getting their heart rate up, getting vestibular and proprioceptive input to regulate their bodies.

  • Did your child climb up and down the slide or a tree?

That’s working on balance, coordinating their body, strength, safety, and judgment of risks, and problem-solving how they can navigate the structure.

  • Did your child notice a bug on the ground, collect any natural materials, or play in a garden?

That works on their visual perception, their attention, fine motor skills like hand grasps, in-hand manipulation, and strength.

Interacting with the outdoors allows children to play with materials in their natural environment and further their development and skills. Research says nature benefits children’s motor development by:

  • Lowering children’s risk of obesity and BMI through exercise

  • Lowering screen time

  • Interacting with soil and moving outdoors increases bone development and immunity

  • Increasing gross motor coordination, body awareness, and balancing by being on a log or climbing trees

  • Increasing fine motor skills by building structures with sticks and rocks or skipping rocks into a river or collecting sea glass from the beach

(Andrew, Yusof, & Kasim, 2020; Bento, & Dias, 2017; Dadvand, et al., 2014; Figueroa, 2020)

The physical challenges that are everywhere in nature offer children an opportunity to get to know their body positioning test their environment and assess risks like how to safely jump off a tree branch or rock to land with both feet onto the ground. These are important to develop core stability, strength, walking, motor coordination, and fine motor skills for school activities and eventually work.

Social Development Skills

Interacting with the outdoors also allows for social skill development. Reflect on your recent outside time with your child.

  • Did your child ask you questions about the environment?

They are curious! They are learning about the earth’s ecosystem.

  • Did