March 1, 2019
Sending the kids outside to play isn't just a good way to get them out of the house, it's also beneficial for their mental health. And as a new study from Aarhus University in Denmark shows, children who more spend more time in nature may be less likely to develop various psychiatric disorders as adults.
This scientific research essentially confirms what we've always known: Playing outdoors is good for kids' overall happiness and development. But what this study also shows is having more "cumulative green space" while growing up is associated with a "lower risk of a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders later in life."
There are a number of other factors that affect mental health, including family history and genetic predispositions to certain conditions. And the point of this study isn't to scare city dwellers—it's to reinforce for the idea that "green space" is good for kids, and integrating natural environments into urban areas has proven benefits as well.
The fact is that kids just don't spend as much time outside as we did growing up. One 2016 survey from U.K.'s National Trust showed that the average child spent just over four hours a week enjoying Mother Nature, compared to the 8.2 hours their parents logged when they were little. We can chalk it up to our busy schedules and the rise of technology, but that doesn't change the fact that our kids aren't getting much fresh air and sunshine.
Many parents are trying to change to this, though. Take Ginny and Jason Yurich, a Michigan mom and dad who started 1000 Hours Outside, an online community encouraging families to (you guessed it) aim to spend 1000 hours a year in the great outdoors.
The Yurichs, who have five children, say that an ideal world, children should be outside four to six hours a day. That's a lot, we know, and the creators of 1000 Hours Outside are quick to say they're not spending four to six hours outside every day. Instead, they "aim for 4-6 hours outside at least three to four times a week," Ginny writes, explaining they do "a little more in the nicer months and a little less in the worse ones."
There's plenty of evidence that suggests unstructured outdoor play is key to a child's development, and we're of the mindset that every little bit counts. What the Yurichs are saying, though, is that when kids are able to spend longer periods of time outdoors, the benefits are even bigger.
"Children who are allowed this freedom of time outside get lost in nature," Ginny explains. "They get lost in their imaginations and they get lost in wonder. And then they rapidly develop. There are many factors why but one reason is due to the rich sensory environment that nature always provides."
Nature also provides the perfect place for kids and parents to be active and explore the world around them. It isn't always possible to head outside and play, but when the weather's right and you can carve out some time in the family's schedule, it's a wonderful, affordable way to engage those little ones and their developing minds.