When you were a kid, you probably spent time every day after school and on the weekends playing in the yard or going to the park or playground. A lot has changed since then, with researchers reporting that the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes a day playing outside and more than seven hours a day in front of a screen. That behavior shift has contributed to the increase in a number of health problems for America’s kids, including obesity, ADHD, anxiety, depression and nearsightedness.
In contrast, playing outside helps kids get needed exercise and also increases their vitamin D level, which can help provide protection against bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues in the future. Studies have also found that regular outdoor play can help children do better in school, reduces ADHD symptoms and lowers stress levels.
So what can you do to help your kids get off the couch and out the door? Of course, you’re not just going to send your younger children out on their own, so look for activities you can do together outside:
- Walk rather than drive to close by destinations.
- Help your child start a leaf, rock or bug collection. After they gather their “specimens”, check out books from the library that help them classify and learn about their finds.
- Try camping. If you’ve never done it before, you can start with a campout in your own backyard.
- Take advantage of local parks and outdoor spaces. Many offer children’s programs or have hiking paths designed to be easy for even inexperienced hikers with small kids.
- Plant a small garden. Let your children help decide what to plant and have them help you care for the plants and harvest what they’ve helped grow.
- Build or buy a sandbox. Kids never get tired of building empires in the sand. You don’t need any fancy sand toys, just small plastic shovels and a pail or two.
- Let them get wet. Running through the sprinkler or stomping puddles is both fun and free.
- Get a bird feeder. Even if you live in an apartment in the city, you and your kids can enjoy feeding the birds. There are many types that use suction cups to stick to the outside of a window, which gives you a chance to birdwatch up close.
- Make a leaf pile that’s just for jumping in. When the kids are finished playing, they can help you scoop the leaves into bags or your compost pile.
- Create an outdoor treasure hunt. Give your kids a list of things like a big leaf, a shiny rock, an acorn and a skinny stick and let them search the yard for these treasures.
By getting your kids to spend more time outside and less time glued to a screen, you’ll not only help them be healthier, it will also help you enjoy the stress-reducing and exercise benefits of being an active, outdoorsy parent.
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