By Pediatrician Dr. Paul Smolen
Posted June 2, 2019, Portable Practical Pediatrics www.docsmo.com
Is outdoor play vital to your child’s short and long term physical and mental health? You bet it is. Grandma knew this was so and now science has caught up with her wisdom as you are about to hear about in this edition of Portable Practical Pediatrics.
Article by Gwen Dewar PhD-12 Benefits of Outdoor Play for Children
How in the world did American children get to this sad state of affairs, spending, on average 7 minutes a day enjoying unstructured play while spending an average of 7.5 hours in front of some kind of screen? And when it comes to being outdoors–for that, children today average 34 minutes a day, half of what their parents got a generation ago. That lack of outdoor play is robbing them of so many benefits that generations before have enjoyed and are altering children’s short and long term physical and mental health. Don’t believe that? Well, consider the information that Dr. Gwen Dewar outlined after her study of the subject. For those of you who don’t know, Dr. Gwen Dewar has a PhD in evolutionary anthropology and knows a lot about babies and children. She runs a website called “Parenting Science” and there, she posts about the new studies and information regarding parenting subjects… the same thing that I do. We are in the same business so to speak and I think she does a great job. I always enjoy her perspective.
Anyway, Dr. Dewar wrote an excellent article recently on why children need outdoor time and play and I thought it was so important, that I needed to share her 12 reasons why your children’s childhoods should get a heavy dose of outdoor time. So let’s get right to it shall we?
Benefit #1–Reduced chance of nearsightedness. It turns out that a child’s eyeball shape is determined partly by genetics but also by exposure to outdoor light. For a child, being outdoors, looking into the distance bathed in bright light, maximizes their chances of not becoming nearsighted and needing glasses.
Benefit #2– Bright light exposure has also been shown to enhance bodily health and mental performance through the vitamin D mechanism. We have all heard of the myriad of benefits of adequate Vitamin D levels. Now add direct enhancement of brain function, synapse enhancement, and improvement of a child’s mood to the list.
Benefit #3-Dr. Dewar reminds us that studies confirm the fact that outdoor play is more vigorous than indoor play, affording many children more intense level of activity than they can get indoors. Wild and crazy doesn’t work well in your living room but outdoors… yes.
Benefit #4– Outdoor play allows children athletic challenges that are harder to get indoors. Playing around nature allows children greater freedom to develop athletic abilities by giving them opportunities to climb, jump, roll, throw, and kick, all things that adults just won’t let them do indoors.
Benefit #5– Here is one that I wouldn’t have thought of…outdoor play offers very young children special opportunities learn new words and concepts by allowing them to have sensory experiences very different than those that they can have indoors; things like playing with sand and mud, jumping over rocks and water, as well as playing with sticks and leaves. Each of these sensory experiences have a vocabulary that goes along with them that young children can learn.
Benefit #6– When kids play in green spaces, they reap special psychological benefits, including better recovery from stress as well as an enhanced ability to concentration. Dr. Dewar points out that children spending time in green spaces acquire an enhanced ability to concentrate and remember facts…both great things for learning.
Benefit #7– Connecting with nature may also lower a child’s risk of behavior problems.`Nature connected preschoolers have been shown to have a lower chance of having ADHD and behavior problems. What’s not to love about that?
Benefit #8– Cooperative outdoor play can help children learn social skills. Screen time seems to be the opposite of what it takes to develop cooperative social skills. A child being outdoors playing with other children on the other hand, is forced to learn give and take, conflict resolution, and empathy for others.
Benefit #9– Positive experiences with nature teaches children to respect — and protect — their environment. This benefit is intuitively obvious. Children who are environmentally connected during their childhood, as you would expect, grow up to have more sensitivity to take care of their environment.
Benefit #10– Is your child wrestling with sleep troubles like so many children today? Dr. Dewar says that current evidence refutes the idea that outdoor play makes kids sleep longer at night. But she says there is evidence that outdoor time helps children fall asleep more easily by setting their biological clocks to be in rhythm with the sun. Early morning exposure to bright light sets a child’s brain to get sleepy about 12 hours later. And as far as physical activity and sleep, all I know is that my children slept like rocks when we wore them out at a pool, lake, or ocean. But that is just my observation.
Benefit #11– Outdoor play may encourage kids to take calculated risks – and become more confident in their abilities to take on physical and as well as other life challenges. This effect of outdoor play has to be good for today’s children.
Benefit #12– And finally, By itself, outdoor time probably doesn’t prevent obesity — but it’s a good first step toward a more active, healthful lifestyle!
So let’s run the dozen reasons your children need to be outdoors: reiterate #1-#12
This is an amazing list of reasons why your children should turn off the TV, video games, and electronics and get themselves outside as much as possible. I’m sure if grandma is listening to this podcast, she would agree.
If you get a chance, check out Dr. Dewar’s website–Parenting Science. I think it is great. If you enjoy the information you get from this podcast, consider rating it or writing a review where you get your podcasts. And of course, share episodes you like with friends and family. All free, and intended to make you one of the best informed parents in the room. This is Doc Smo, we can all turn the tide, and get this generation outside. Until next time.
Many thanks to Dr. Monica Miller and Dr. Charlotte Rouchouze for their assistance in the production of this pedcast.