Now that spring has fully announced its arrival, we are invited and encouraged to step into the great outdoors to enjoy longer days of sunlight and fantastic spaces to explore! Our families have spent more time indoors in front of computer screens than in recent memory. It’s time to soak up the sun, splash in a puddle, or count the stars.

Be One with Nature

There is no pitfall to stepping outside. It can be a simple picnic in your back yard or a manageable hike that all families members can enjoy. (See our guide for the best places for family hiking.) The important part is going outdoors to enjoy nature.

Your children will thank you for the interruption. Encourage them to walk through a forest. Allow them to run down the block. Welcome the dirt under their fingernails, the scrapes on their elbows, the smiles on their faces. Yes, that is what the outside can do for you and yours.

Bountiful Benefits to Outdoor Time

It should come as no surprise that being outdoors is good for our overall health. Reports confirm that children who spend more time in nature are less likely to develop various psychiatric disorders as adults. Additionally, catching some rays of sunshine gives a boost of Vitamin D and improves overall “happiness.” 10 Amazing Benefits Of Children Spending More Time Outdoors (lifehack.org)

For example, if your son or daughter is running, climbing, and jumping at the playground, they are improving their motor skills and developing muscle strength at a faster rate than their indoor counterparts. All of this moving and grooving will most likely decrease their body mass index reducing the chance of obesity. Most likely they will be laughing more as well while they are engaged in outdoor play.

Extended opportunities to be outdoors with nature allows our children to have a lifelong appreciation of what nature has to offer and the ability to respect the beauty in which they are surrounded. Whether it is a tiny insect or a cracked blue Robin’s egg or a newly budding plant, they will understand the effort it takes for Mother Nature to do her job.

Emotional and Social Benefits, too!

While immersing themselves in the outdoor arena, children are also developing and strengthening their emotional and social skills. 

When playing outside rather than in confined indoor spaces, children feel less overwhelmed by noise and might be less competitive with siblings or classmates. Wide open spaces or even small green places provide them the opportunity to expend energy, communicate better with peers, and gain a sense of independence.

Every interaction with their peers helps children hone these important life skills, such as working in conjunction with one another during a game of kickball; keeping score or participating in an organized game assists with math and negotiation skills. Additionally, it requires imagination to create games such as building a fort in the woods or creating their own obstacle course at the playground. The ideas – and benefits – are limitless. Going outside continues to be a win-win!

1000 Hours Outside Tracker Challenge

In 2019, a Michigan couple with five children developed an online presence challenging our children to match, or attempt to match, the reported 1200 hours of screen time spent annually by our offspring. 

Ginny and Jason Yurich are realistic in their rally cry, noting that 4-6 hours outdoors a day is ideal but difficult, so as not to beat yourself up, strive for a more attainable goal of 3-4 times a week. The Yurichs are firm supporters of unstructured outdoor time allowing children to “get lost in nature.”

If your family needs some encouragement or inspiration to start this challenge, download one of the various 1000 Hours Outside Tracker Charts. Don’t treat this as a competition but rather as a family event where you can all work together to achieve the goal to attain more outdoor time.

What are you waiting for? Be alive and get outside! There is no better time than today. It is free, it is attainable, and it is healthy for everyone. Whether it is in your own yard, at a local park or playground or one of the beautiful state parks in Pennsylvania, just get there! Take a hike, stomp in the mud, frolic in a meadow – just get out there.