The Great Outdoors? Today’s Kids Aren’t So Sure


Published:

It’s no coincidence that “great” often modifies “outdoors.” But do today’s kids know why?

In the 1970s and 1980s, the average child enjoyed more than two hours of outdoor play each day, according to an April 2013 study conducted by JCB Kids, an online constructive play resource center for children and adults. Today’s kids spend as few as 7 minutes engaged in unstructured outdoor play per day, while spending an average of 7.5 hours in front of electronic media, according to the National Recreation and Park Association. Homework and extracurricular activities also limit unstructured playtime outdoors.

And those aren’t the only numbers that are cause for alarm: A meager 10 percent of children between the ages of 13 and 18 say they spend time outdoors every day, according to a Nature Conservancy poll taken July 28-Aug. 4, 2014. Compare that to statistics published in the Spring 2011 issue of American Journal of Play, which state that 70 percent of the 830 U.S. mothers surveyed said they played outdoors daily as children, while only 31 percent of their children play outdoors daily now.

THE CULPRIT

Lack of interest in and access to nature keeps kids indoors, according to the Nature Conservancy poll. Kids ages 13-18 who responded to the survey reported discomfort with bugs and heat as a reason to stay indoors, and 61 percent blamed a lack of natural areas near their homes.

Parents who worry about “stranger danger,” or that their kids could be harassed, attacked or even abducted by a stranger while playing outdoors, may not even realize they also share some of the blame for why kids are staying indoors more often nowadays. Other parental concerns include traffic dangers, kids getting hurt or gaps in supervision.

Compelling distractions such as the new “Legend of Zelda” game or the latest episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” may share a good portion of the blame. On weekends, kids average more than seven hours a day in front of an electronic screen, according to the National Wildlife Federation. By the time a child attends kindergarten, he or she is likely to have watched more than 5,000 hours of television. That’s about the same amount of time it takes to earn a college degree.

THE BENEFITS

Greater Health

As if the reduction in outdoor playtime for today’s generation of kids isn’t alarming enough, consider that data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows obesity rates have increased dramatically over the past 20 years, antidepressant use has increased by 400 percent since 1988 (kids are not exempt), and parent-reported ADHD diagnoses have been on the rise since the 1970s. Many researchers wonder — could there be a link between nature deficiency and these significant health statistics?

Correlation doesn’t imply causality, but research strongly suggests that exposure to nature can have a positive effect on a child’s health and development. A 2005 study by the American Medical Association concluded that children who are given free and unstructured opportunities to play outside will be “smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier.”

In the Nature Conservancy study, 90 percent of kids who spent time outside reported that being in nature and taking part in outdoor activities helped relieve stress.

And then there are the well-known benefits of physical activity — whether it takes place indoors or outdoors. Research from the U.S. Department of Health shows that engaging in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking, consistently reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes and other adverse health issues.

Greater Intelligence

Len Saunders, best-selling author and motivational speaker in the fight against childhood obesity, says kids who play on a consistent, regular basis perform better in school. A group of 2,000 teachers surveyed by the National Wildlife Federation in 2010 agree. Of those surveyed, 78 percent feel students who spend time in unstructured outdoor play are better able to concentrate, and 75 percent feel that these students are more creative and better problem solvers. Kids who spend time in nature also have higher test scores, do better in science and play more cooperatively, according to the teachers surveyed.

See our sidebar (below) for ways to encourage safe outdoor play. Evidence shows convincingly how beneficial it is for children, so give yours plenty of opportunities to play outside, whether they are building forts and dens, climbing trees or making daisy chains. A healthy dose of dirt can go a long way.

Carolyn Caggia is a junior at N.C. State University majoring in environmental science with a focus in journalism.

5 Ways to Enjoy the Outdoors

Fall is a beautiful time to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are five ways your family can get out and get active.

1. Go to a park. Wake County boasts 152 county parks, city parks and public swimming and tennis facilities within its borders. There are more than 60 parks in Durham County, 40 in Orange County and 30 in Johnston County. Check out this year’s GPS (Go Play See) resource guide for more locations and ideas.

2. Encourage outdoor play with friends. The Nature Conservancy’s poll showed that 91 percent of kids said if a friend encouraged them to spend more time outdoors, they would comply. Playing outside with the neighborhood kids is beneficial for your child’s social development and teaches them skills they’ll use in future relationships later on.

A tip from Len Saunders, best-selling author and motivational speaker in the fight against childhood obesity: Incorporate playtime into your child’s after-school routine. When kids get home from school, a routine is important to establish a balance of homework, playtime, nutrition, and technology. A child who does not go out and play regularly, he cautions, is more likely to engage in a sedentary lifestyle later in life.

3. Teach your child about nature. An interest in nature will spur a curious child to explore the outdoors and learn about the world around him. Also, a child who loves nature will likely be more passionate about protecting it.

4. Landscape your yard to increase natural window views. Access to or views of nature improve cognitive function and have shown to improve recovery from surgery or illness in hospitals, according to a 2010 study by Cornell University. Consider supporting plans to create space for parks and natural areas near or within residential areas, and plans to increase walkability within neighborhoods and developments.

5. See “Pumpkin Patches, Hayrides and Ghostly Gatherings” for more outdoor activities the entire family can enjoy.

 

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2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
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Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
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Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

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Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
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Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

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We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

Art Walk featuring local galleries and artist studios in historic downtown Hillsborough on the Last Friday of every month (no Art Walk in December).

Cost: FREE

Where:
Downtown Hillsborough (multiple locations)
102 N. Churton St.
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Sponsor: Hillsborough Arts Council
Telephone: 919-643-2500
Contact Name: Torey Mishoe
Website »

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River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
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Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

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The Engage Art Contest is a juried competition for original Visual Art, Music Video, Film and Performing Arts. The topic is the Spiritual Battle described in Ephesians 6:10-20 and related...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online
PO Box 78951
Charlotte, NC  28271
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Sponsor: Engage Art Contest
Telephone: 980-999-1447
Contact Name: Ranika Chaney
Website »

More information

Forget tourist-filled museums, make your own memories with a photo scavenger hunt tour in Raleigh! On a Let’s Roam scavenger hunt, you and your team will work together to wander throughout...

Cost: $11

Where:
500 S Salisbury St
raleigh, NC  27601
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Sponsor: Let's Roam
Website »

More information

Farmers markets are essential to the livelihood of farmers and food producers and are exempt from the Governor's Stay at Home Order (page 6). Farmers markets offer an efficient way for residents to...

Cost: free

Where:
Holly Springs Cultural Center
300 W. Ballentine St.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Farmers Market Coordinator
Telephone: 919-567-4010
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Parents, bring your child to class with you. Children 10 years...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
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Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

PARENTS JOIN OUR DHHS APPROVEDCPR/AED & First Aid Certification ClassesFoster parents are required to be CPR & First Aid certified. Must register in advance. Space is limited. Parents, bring your...

Cost: 50-80

Where:
Holly Springs, NC
1001 Silverstone Way
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Save A Life Now Training Center LLC
Telephone: 919-215-6942
Contact Name: Valentina Cordoba
Website »

More information

Amongst the ancient oak trees is the heart of Raleigh. We'll help you see the forest for the trees and all its magic splendor. Tourist, local, or new to town, this is a lively small group activity...

Cost: $11

Where:
Downtown
500 S Salisbury St
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: Let's Roam
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: Kelly
Website »

More information

Kindermusik is a research-based early childhood curriculum that includes 45-minute classroom lessons with materials and resources that encourages parental involvement . Research has linked...

Cost: $70/month

Where:
Hope Community Building
2080 E Williams St
Hope Community Building, Fuquay Varina Room
Apex/Holly Springs, NC  27539
View map »


Telephone: 191-990-25432
Contact Name: Leigh Hamm
Website »

More information

Live online classes for kids - FREE! Kids and families can join our online classes from home while school is out. Our special guests teach kids about art, medicine, music, cooking, science and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Online at your Home
265 Cambridge Ave #60923
Palo Alto, NC  94306
View map »


Sponsor: ActivityHero
Telephone: 800-437-6125
Contact Name: Mabelle
Website »

More information

Sign up for a Raleigh scavenger hunt and put on your best Nick Cage impression as you seek out the national treasures hidden in Raleigh. Via an app, be guided through the cultural, historical,...

Cost: See website for fees

Where:
Downtown Raleigh
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
View map »


Sponsor: LetsRoam!
Telephone: 833-202-7626
Contact Name: LetsRoam!
Website »

More information

Join one of our talented Mid-South Fencers’ Club coaches for a one hour virtual lesson to the fast paced and exciting sport of Olympic Fencing! This will be a FREE ONLINE class. All you need is...

Cost: free

Where:
Mid-South Fencers' Club ONLINE
125 N. Gregson St.
DURHAM, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Mid-South Fencers' Club
Telephone: 919-286-3100
Contact Name: Jeff Kallio
Website »

More information

It's time to play... TAKEOUT BINGO!!!  Take a screenshot or download the game board. Mark off the locations you visit. Share your progress on Facebook and Instagram using #CRTakeoutBingo. Send...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Crossroads Plaza
Crossroad Blvd
Suite 215
Cary, NC  27518
View map »


Sponsor: Crossroads Plaza/ Kimco Realty
Telephone: 864-979-2291
Contact Name: Katie Earnhardt
Website »

More information

We invite all Triangle youth between the ages of 8 thru 17 with a sincere interest in the Performance Art of Magic to join Magic Youth Raleigh! This youth program teaches magic history and theory,...

Cost: $35 per Student

Where:
New Horizons Fellowship
820 E. Williams St.
Apex, NC  27502
View map »


Sponsor: The International Brotherhood of Magicians
Contact Name: Roger Way
Website »

More information

The Beaver Queen Pageant is the Triangle’s own special mix of folly, pageantry, and humor. Contestants take on beaver personalities and compete for the title of Beaver Queen with their fashion,...

Cost: free

Where:
Online
, NC


Sponsor: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
Telephone: 919-698-9729
Contact Name: Rachel Cohn
Website »

More information

River Jam at the U.S. National Whitewater Center brings together live musical performances throughout the year to a one-of-a-kind outdoor venue, right in the middle of the world’s largest...

Cost: $6

Where:
USNWC
5000 Whitewater Center Pkwy
Charlotte, NC  28214
View map »


Sponsor: USNWC
Telephone: 704-391-3900
Contact Name: Jenny Hill
Website »

More information

Get your summer vibes going at the 1st Annual Hubb’s Beach Blast at Hubb’s Farm in Clinton, NC.  Hubb’s Beach Blast will feature two of beach music industry’s top groups, Jim Quick and...

Cost: 20-50

Where:
Hubb's Farm
10276 US HWY 421 N
Clinton, NC  28328
View map »


Sponsor: Hubb's Farm
Telephone: 910-564-6709
Contact Name: Tammy Peterson
Website »

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