The average American child spends just 4 to 7 minutes in unstructured outdoor play every day, yet spends more than 7 hours looking at a screen, according to the Child Mind Institute. In those terms, the situation sounds appalling, but the reality speeds by much less dramatically. It’s easy to lose track of quiet children engaged in a video game, while the minutes move much slower when you’re trying to keep track of little ones running around outdoors.
It’s not easy to get the kids outside. As much as I love getting out into nature, I also live the reality of working from home on a computer, with no daycare to help with little ones all day. Despite the difficulties, here are a few compelling perks I’ve found from finding hiking parks near me and getting kids outside.
They’ll Find a Little Peace
I didn’t pose this photo, I swear. While the rest of us were off the trail trying to find a geocache, Peyton settled down to…sit. This was the first time I spotted him just soaking up his surroundings, but it wasn’t the last. Always the thoughtful one, he’s made a habit of sinking into a little 7-year-old meditation when we get out of the house somewhere peaceful. We never find this level of peace in the house, but it sneaks up on us easily when I find hiking places we can explore together.
They Learn to Love Nature
The first time the boys saw a frog that had hopped in from the yard, they screamed. Then we took them on a few hiking trails near me and pointed tiny frogs out along the way. Now they love it when Adam brings in frogs from outside. Nature become familiar when you spend more time in it.
They Discover New Chores
Picking up the house is always a battle, but when it comes to chores outside, the kids literally fight for the right to do them. And who can blame them? It’s exciting to water the plants, knowing that you’re nourishing a living thing that will get bigger and greener tomorrow. They’ve also willingly helped to dig the firepit (now we can make s’mores!) and sweep the driveway (so it’s clean for sidewalk chalk!). Chores outside just feel less like chores.
They Point Out the Little Things
Adam has a killer eye for the little things, but I tend to miss them. When I’m on the trail, I’m focused on not tripping, keeping one foot in front of the other, and trying to pretend I’m not going uphill. The kids always slow me down with their discoveries, and I don’t mind the slower miles one bit. It’s incredible to see a stream or a rock or a tree through their eyes.
They’ll Grow Up Healthier
The World Health Organization recommends at least an hour of moderate to intense physical activity every day for kids age 5 to 17. Are your kids getting it? Statistics say they’re probably not. Obesity is now the top concern for parents in the U.S. You don’t have to put your kids on a treadmill or add the stress of a sports schedule to your weekly routine. Just find some nearby hiking places or send them outside in your neighborhood. Playing outside offers benefits for kids’ emotional, physical, and mental health, including:
- Higher levels of Vitamin D from sun exposure
- Improved distance vision from time outside
- Lower stress levels from exposure to green spaces
- Healthier emotional development from unstructured free time
Take a walk in the morning, go outside after dinner, or schedule a mid-day hike during your longer summer days. However you do it, get out there. There’s a noticeable difference between the weeks where I find good hiking trails near me and get the kids out and the ones where work and obligations keep up homebound. You’re sure to notice it, too.