Summer- a time when the lure of sedentary, screen-focused activities seems irresistible to most kids. And, parents frequently acquiesce due to scary media about what lurks outside the door… sun overexposure, itchy plants and bugs, dirt, and more!
But, let’s get real. Of course, we need to take some necessary precautions, like wearing sunscreen and insect repellant and using soap and water when we come in. But we shouldn’t deprive children of the really important benefits of being outside, which totally outweigh the other stuff.
Benefits, eh? Says who? Well, actually, the scientific community, that’s who. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits.
1. Provides air that is cleaner. According to the EPA, the pollutants in indoor air are typically 2 to 5 times higher (and can often be 100 times higher!) than outside air. We always assume outdoor pollution is yucky, but this puts it to shame! I guess Mom’s, “Get out and get some fresh air!” still rings true.
2. Increases attention span. The National Institutes of Health conducted experiments that showed children are able to focus on an activity longer than if it was done indoors.
3. Promotes better sleep. Many children have sleep routine issues because their internal body clocks are out of whack. Circadian rhythm is linked with the cycle of the sun, so if children are spending a good deal of time indoors, they aren’t receiving the changing light cues they need. Sometimes, they may even need a system reset. Researchers have found that the best way to do this is by providing exposure to early morning sunlight. So, get ‘em up and out early!
4. Tones down stress. Researchers say spending time in green spaces lowers stress levels. They did studies with children experiencing highly distressing life events, whose psychological discomfort was significantly reduced with exposure to natural, outdoor environments. So, just think what a positive effect it can have on a simple tantrum!
5. Supports better vision. About half of young adults in this country are nearsighted, which is nearly double the percentage when their grandparents were the same age. Studies have been conducted with children who spent most of their time indoors and those who played outside at least 40 minutes a day. Apparently, artificial lighting can be a factor in the development of nearsightedness. The brighter, natural light outdoors helps keep the proper distance between the retina and lens, which is crucial for good focus. This would be important to consider, since the eyes of young children are still a work in progress.
6. Delivers Vitamin D. Ah, yes… the sunshine vitamin. Sure, most children are on the gummy vitamin regime and drink milk, but the sun is still the best source. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that Vitamin D is important in the absorption of calcium. So, a deficiency in either can set a child up for future problems, like heart disease, diabetes, and bone issues.
OK. That's the list. Now, power off the screens and open the door!