Balancing tech with outdoor play is something I bet you’ve fretted over in your daily fretting routine—but getting your kids into nature doesn’t necessarily mean outfitting them in Patagonia and embarking on miles-long wilderness excursions. A strip of woods at the edge of a park, or even a vacant lot (if you can find one), is enough to get the benefits of straight-up nature. Here’s how to stop worrying and get outside.
Before you even step off the porch, know that the benefits of the outdoors can come just by looking at it. No kidding! A study by Kate E. Lee from the University of Melbourne showed that looking a green space—even just a green roof—increased sustained attention. If it isn’t too much of an inconvenience, even switching bedrooms to give children a greener view allows them to reap the benefits of nature.
Turn off the local news and repeat to yourself: “It’s not as dangerous out there as it sounds.” Consider statistics that show your kid is more likely to be harmed during the drive to school than nabbed by a predator. And sure, there’s always the risk of outdoor injuries (and dirty clothes), but it’s been shown that kids achieve more balance and agility in rough terrains than in perfect parks and padded playgrounds. A skinned knee is survivable. Clothes can be washed. It’s a small price to pay for the sensory and intellectual benefits of experimenting with nature.
You know what your kid needs to play outside? Just some weather-appropriate clothes. That’s it. You don’t need to over-plan, or watch them like a hawk. They don’t need special outdoor toys, gadgets, or games. Sticks and rocks will become their swords and building blocks. This kind of play builds creativity, and the more loose and unstructured their time is, the better.
As a parent, it’s good to hang back (as much as is appropriate for your kid’s age). Allowing a kid to take risks and learn from mistakes, even if it occasionally leads to tears, has been shown to boost self-confidence and self-esteem. Feel free to foster curiosity in smaller children with questions like, “Why is this plant growing here and not there?”—but older children will benefit from unsupervised outdoor time.
The important part is that kids get a chance to get their hands dirty and be active in relatively untamed spaces. It doesn’t have to be for hours on end—in fact, you can start slow with 30 minutes a day. You’ll find that the time will grow as your kid begins to crave the outdoors. You’ll likely benefit too, making those big worries that much smaller.