In this podcast (#492) and blog, I talk about something great you can do with your children this summer: getting outside! This is part of my summer series on brain-building activities you can do with your children to help them build up their mental resilience and manage their mental health while having fun.
We all know that getting outside is great for our mental wellbeing. Just think of how you feel when you go for a walk in the sunshine or spend time reading at the beach. Nature has a way of calming us down mentally and physically.
The same is true for our children. Playing outside is one of the best things they can do to boost their mental and physical wellbeing. This may seem obvious, but consider that the average American child spends 4-7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors and over 7 hours in front of a screen. This is a cause for concern, as research shows that children should play outside for around 2-3 hours, or at minimum 20 minutes, a day for optimal mental and physical development. As much as modern technology has improved our lives, it should not replace the act of enjoying the outdoors and what nature has to offer.
In fact, just seeing a green space for a few moments gives the brain a chance to restore attention and reduce mental fatigue, regardless of our age, essentially making our brains more resilient and helping us with difficult work or challenging relationships. Going outdoors is about so much more than enjoying the scenery or getting some exercise!
Researchers also see a consistent, positive relationship between nature exposure and student performance. Spending time outside on a regular basis can help improve attention and focus. As I am sure many of us have experienced, our voluntary attention can be distracted by what's going on in our heads and around us. Research has shown that our physical environment can actually help us use our attention more efficiently and effectively, as well as prevent us from feeling overly fatigued (this is called attention-restoration theory). Being outside helps focus in a gentle, non-distracting way, giving us the space to think about the things that bubble up into our minds. Being in this kind of environment also helps us relax when we are mentally or physically exhausted, overwhelmed and overstimulated by improving our oxygen levels and blood flow.
Indeed, there are many benefits associated with spending time outdoors, regardless of our age:
- Improved motor development
- Decreased myopia (nearsightedness) risk
- Exposure to Vitamin D to stay strong and healthy
- Reduced risk for depression
- Improved health outcomes
For children in particular, the outdoors is a great place for them to use their imagination and develop their brains. When children play outdoors, they use their imagination and creativity more and tend to be more curious about their environment. This helps them learn how to think critically and become more focused, which is excellent for their mind and brain health. It can also help reduce feelings of frustration, anger or aggression as well as impulsivity by helping children deal with and work through negative feelings or emotions in a safe environment.
There are many great ways to encourage your child to connect with nature, including:
- Talking your child on walks outdoors from the time they are babies. The earlier we get them outside, the better! Even when they are still a baby, a child is able to hear the birdsong, feel the wind and sunshine, and sense all the sights and sounds of nature, which will support their brain development as they grow.
- Encouraging fun outdoor activities like bike riding, hiking, camping, picnics, kicking or throwing a ball around, playing with dogs and so on.
- Teaching your child how to build things out of branches, leaves and other foliage, or teaching them how to build a treehouse.
- Encouraging them to play with their toys outside (or even objects like pots and pans!). Growing up, my children loved to play with toy cars and Legos outside, making whole cities in our backyard!
- Reading them stories outside.
- Taking breaks in nature.
For more on the health benefits of spending time outdoors with your children, listen to my podcast (episode #492). If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Preorder my new book How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess before August 7th, 2023 to receive exclusive bonuses, including access to a 1-hour webinar + Q&A session on back-to-school tips and strategies to help your child mentally prepare for the year ahead! You can preorder here.
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0:37 Children don’t spend enough time outside
1:40 Why we should all be spending more time outdoors
5:00 How getting outside can improve attention & focus
8:40, 20:40 The many mental & physical benefits of getting outside
10:30 How getting outside can help children perform better at school
13:00, 22:20 Ways to encourage your children to get outside & improve their mental wellbeing
This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.