Have you ever heard of Nature Deficit Disorder? It’s a recent term that, in a nutshell, means we spend too much time indoors and too little time in, well, nature!
And children are definitely in a deficit. Studies estimate that, per day, children spend over seven hours on screens and less than 10 minutes engaging in unstructured outdoor play. Screen time may have been king of the winter, but green time is ready for its moment in the sun. There are plenty of benefits to enjoying nature and countless ways to get started.
Nature exploration can lead to physical and mental health benefits for both children and adults. Children who regularly play in nature are reported to be smarter, happier, more attentive, and experience less anxiety. In addition, nature play can promote confidence, imagination, creativity, and responsibility. It’s also been linked to improved sleep patterns and a boosted immune system.
If you haven’t abandoned your screen to run outside into the wilderness, let me motivate you with a few ideas to get you excited to collect some “Vitamin N.”
Establish a “Green Hour”
Consider “green hour” the new happy hour! Set aside a time during the day to be outdoors that your family can build into a routine. It could be sharing your breakfast on the deck or going for a family walk around the block after dinner. Keeping it short can help ease everyone into the habit. Don’t grumble if you miss a day, focus on enjoying yourselves and celebrate the moments you spend outdoors!
Keep a Nature Journal
Journaling is a motivating and self-reflective activity for all ages. With a nature journal, no writing is required! Hunt for nature specimens in your neighborhood, yard, or trails, and store them on notebook pages or in a shoebox. Your child may enjoy adding the place and date they found the item or swapping with family members or friends. Be sure that the item your child wants to add is safe to pick and bring home, or just take a quick picture of it to look at later.
Mud is not the enemy! The National Wildlife Foundation’s The Dirt on Dirt reports that “getting dirty” can benefit a child’s heart, skin, and immune system, as well as increase happiness, reduce anxiety, and improve learning. Dirt and mud can be a great medium for free building, making “mud castles,” playing in a pretend outdoor kitchen, painting, or building small summer snowmen.
Play with Flashlights
Flashlights make an exciting addition to any spring or summer evening outdoor game. Older children may enjoy old-school flashlight tag or using exposure photography to create Instagram-worthy shots. Younger children may enjoy using flashlights to pick out scavenger hunt items or creating outdoor shadow puppets. And the whole family can get behind a round of flashlight limbo!
Unstructured Outdoor Play
Don’t feel pressure to set everything up for your children so they will enjoy being outside. Sometimes the best way to spark this interest is to just by letting your child explore on their own and engage in unstructured play! This gives them a chance to flex their STEAM muscles and gravitate towards things that truly interest them. You may end up learning something new about your child!
The benefits of spending time in nature are clear, and the activities are endless. This year, let's put green time above screen time and enjoy exploring the great outdoors.
I received a game in exchange for this blog post. All opinions expressed belong to me.
Allison Duggan is a practicing occupational therapist with an expertise in pediatrics. She currently works in Montgomery County Public Schools. Never one to exclude an age group, she also practices in adult inpatient acute care occupational therapy. Off the clock, you’ll find her spending time with family and friends on a trail, in the sand, or watching the game. She loves to create, from paper flowers to refinished furniture, and is always game for game night.
A note from ThinkFun
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