Getting Kids Outdoors
Time spent in nature provides a wealth of benefits, from improving mental health and wellbeing to positively impacting on physical health. Research tells us that young people in particular have lost touch with nature. Where, as is too often the case, this is accompanied by poor diet and lack of exercise, this compounds the challenges. The result is what the National Trust in their report Natural Childhood have described as “Nature Deficit Disorder” where a lack of engagement with nature impacts on “physical health problems including obesity, mental health problems, and children’s growing inability to assess risks to themselves and others”. Society has come to normalise the meticulous protection of children from risk – but often at the expense of their freedom to play, explore and imagine, free from constraint. The precautions taken to safeguard children can be as limiting as they are protective. Getting outside, unimpeded by either the confines of urban space or adult worries about ‘stranger danger’, children have the opportunity to develop their independence, their judgement and their decision making skills
Nature Deficit Disorder
The National Trust identifies that a “Natural Childhood” delivers benefits for society from reversing the generational decline in connection with the natural world, in health, education, communities and environment.
The National Trust report identifies statistics that confirm the widespread perception that our nation’s children have a largely screen-based lifestyle:
On average, Britain’s children watch more than 17 hours of television a week: that’s almost two-and-a-half hours per day, every single day of the year. Despite the rival attractions of the Internet, this is up by 12% since 2007.
British children are also spending more than 20 hours a week online, mostly on social networking sites.
As children grow older, their ‘electronic addictions’ increase. Britain’s 11–15-year-olds spend about half their waking lives in front of a screen: 7.5 hours a day, an increase of 40% in a decade
The value of being outdoors is also embraced in a similar way by the Forest School movement “an inspirational process, that offers ALL learners regular opportunities to achieve and develop confidence and self-esteem through hands-on learning experiences in a woodland or natural environment with trees.” Getting outdoors and getting active has never been more important, particularly for those who are already struggling with disadvantages.
Why is Getting Outdoors so Important?
Going outdoors has a critical, positive impact on our lives. Time outdoors playing, learning and exploring improves:
physical health – sleep, eating, weight
mental health – stress, friendships, resilience
a sense of belonging and connection to community
engagement with the environment and climate change
Multiple studies in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, China and Singapore show time outdoors leads to increased attainment, less time off sick and behaviour improved across schools, along with an increased connection to nature.