"Green Time" Vital for Healthy Child Development

August 15, 2016 • Children's Health

Green Time Article
"I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electric outlets are."
— 4th Grader (Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv)

Over the past 30 years outdoor play time has fallen by 50%, while childhood obesity and the diagnosis of mental health issues including ADHD and depression have risen substantially in children. “Green time” – or unstructured playtime in nature – is an essential part of raising healthy, balanced, and happy children; yet studies show that school-age children are spending an average 7.5 hours per day on electronic media. This switch from outdoor to indoor recreation is having a disastrous effect on the health of younger generations.

Getting Kids Outside Is More Important Than Ever

How has the lack of outside playtime changed children? Obesity rates in children have doubled in the past 20 years, while in preschoolers this issue is even more pronounced. The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) predicts up to six out of ten of children this age now will be overweight or obese when they reach age 12. The Childhood Obesity Foundation forecasts that if obesity trends continue, by the year 2040 up to 70% of 40-year-old adults will suffer from obesity and related health problems.

Over the same time period, diagnosis of childhood behavioural disorders has increased, and the lack of Vitamin D could be a contributing factor in growth problems in kids. The lack of green time in today’s younger generation is negatively affecting their health, growth, and well-being.

How Green Time Makes Kids Healthy

Spending time outside helps to reduce stress levels, improves mental health, and leads to stronger immune systems. By giving kids access to the outdoors you can help them get more Vitamin D, helping them develop healthier bones and teeth. More time spent outdoors can also be linked to a reduced risk of myopia (nearsightedness). Playing and physical activity protects a child’s emotional development and positively impacts their moral development, while enhancing their physical fitness levels.

In school, children with access to environmental education programs do better on tests and show improved critical thinking skills. This improvement in academic performance with exposure to nature continues to occur through a child’s post-secondary education. By exerting themselves outdoors and getting in touch with nature, children become more compassionate and find it easier to interact socially.

Promoting Green Time

Parents may also benefit from green time and can lead by example. Start by helping your young ones explore their immediate environments – your yard, neighbourhood, and local parks and playgrounds. Ask your children questions about what’s around them and encourage them to do the same. Pick up a bird guide and binoculars for a bird-themed scavenger hunt, visit a stream to spot the animals that live there, or go for a hike in one of the area's beautiful provincial parks. Spend less time indoors, even less with a screen, and your kids will reap the benefits for the rest of their lives.