Contributor: Dr. Elise Herman
Many of us recall childhoods filled with lots of outdoor time, whether it was playing in the backyard, going to parks, building forts, or just running around. Our kids, however, are having very different childhoods, with most spending less than 30 minutes a day outside and up to 7 hours daily in front of some type of technology. The negative physical and emotional effects of this shift are far-reaching and concerning. Rising obesity rates and more mental health issues are huge problems in kids and too much time inside and on electronics are felt to contribute. Research shows that simple outdoor time in nature (recommended to be at least 60 minutes a day) can help reverse these trends.
The benefits for children of getting outside in nature are well documented:
- Increased physical activity, decreased snacking, and therefore decreased obesity
- Increased imagination, creativity, and focus
- Improved distance vision (kids without much outdoor exposure are more likely to have nearsightedness)
- Increased Vitamin D levels (important in bone and immune system health)
- Decreased stress, depression, and anxiety
- Better behavior with less anger and aggression
- Boost in confidence and self-reliance
- Improved sleep
So what does outside nature time look like? It could be exploring the backyard or park, hiking, gardening, riding bikes, or just sitting under a tree daydreaming. Unstructured time, without a specific plan, encourages a child to get creative and be independent.
There are some terrific opportunities in our community for kids to get outside this summer. We have wonderful city parks and lots of hiking trails, including the Palouse to Cascades Trail (formerly called the John Wayne Trail) which is easily accessible and great for all ages.
We are fortunate to have nature/outdoor camps as well. Lazy F Camp and Retreat Center in the nearby Manastash Canyon offers day, overnight, and family camps. Kittitas Environmental Education Network (KEEN) provides nature-based education for all ages year round and will once again hold the “Windy City Park Rangers” day camp program in local parks this summer for kids in kindergarten through 8th grade (more information coming mid-April). KEEN also has the Pond to Pines nature-centered summer camp for children in pre-K through 10th grade which is based at Helen McCabe Park. KEEN has been awarded substantial grants and is able to provide 80 full scholarships for kids from families in need.
So get your kiddo out regularly in nature now and make summer plans for more of the same. Enjoy the benefits of turning your child into a nature-loving, active, outdoor enthusiast!
more about The contributor
Dr. Elise Herman
Dr. Herman is passionate about community health outreach, school programs, and child/family health and wellness. She has more than 31 years of experience as a pediatrician in Ellensburg, Washington, the last 3 with KVH Pediatrics. In 2022 Dr. Herman mostly retired from practice and continues to contribute blog posts and remain a visible advocate for kids in the community.