5 Solid Research-Backed Reasons to Send Your Kids Outdoors

5 Solid Research-Backed Reasons to Send Your Kids Outdoors


Prison inmates spend more time outdoors than kids. Seriously.

Thanks to Ben Klasky and his TedTalk, Get Hooked on Nature, we learned a lot of interesting facts relating to children and their interactions with the outdoors. It's true, the modern day prison inmate here in the U.S. is guaranteed two hours of outdoor time each day. That's more than average modern day child who, might I add, has the freedom to choose (to a degree) how their time is spent. 

We knew spending time outdoors was a healthy thing to do, but quite honestly, we didn’t initially understand the depth of that claim. It is resources like Klasky's Tedtalk and articles published by Children and Nature Network that have allowed us to dig deeper into the topic. Scientific studies are continuously pointing towards the positive correlation of interaction with the outdoors and human health. Nature lightens the burden of many developmental adversities. 

1. I Spy With My Little Overgrown Eye…

Nearsightedness is a commonly known eyesight issue. It simply describes when a person has clear focus on objects close to them but objects further away are incredibly blurry.

The medical term for nearsightedness is myopia. Myopia is the result of a physical condition in which the eyeball grows too long and causes the eye focal point to sit in front of the retina rather than directly on the retina. To put it simply, the eye grows larger than is ideal and “throws off” the natural focal point.

Myopia can result at times, from genetics. More recently, however, studies support that the risk of developing myopia is lessened with increased exposure to natural light. Natural light helps to limit the growth of the eyeball to the healthiest, most ideal size.


Pictured: Buffalo Tee & Child of the Wild Tee

In 2011, a study was presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology Meeting that showed a direct correlation with exposure to sunlight and the prevention of Myopia. The study “indicated a 2% reduced odds of myopia per additional hour of time spent outdoors per week.” For every hour spent outside in natural light, the odds of developing myopia are decreased by two percent.

For children in Taiwan, where Myopia is considered an epidemic, a similar study was orchestrated. The results, on trend with the previous study. To quote directly, “more time spent outside during the day and limited near-work activity, may be a feasible strategy for curbing the increasingly high prevalence of myopia.” Here, the reference to “near-work” activity is interesting. The invasion of technology in modern time has made near-work activity, an activity where we focus heavily on an object close by, is a huge part of our daily lives. People, children included, spend much of their time focusing closely on phones, tablets, and similar electronic devices.

myopia diagram

I found it very interesting that it’s not just digital devices that contribute to the cause of myopia. It’s instead, the combination of the near-work and that the lack of sufficient exposure to outdoor light.

An additional study from Australia trended in the same direction, “Higher levels of total time spent outdoors...were associated with less myopia…”  It’s important to note that researchers behind these studies state that the results are not entirely conclusive. That said, the trend is unquestionable. Each of the studies has pointed to the same results. Denying kids the outdoors could be denying them the best possible eyesight.

2. Academic Excellence Starts on the Playground

Recess, whether it is necessary and how extensive it should be, is a long-standing and often revisited topic in U.S. schools, as well as many other regions of the world. Recess is commonly sacrificed in an effort to increase academic success and standardized test averages. Studies indicate that recess, specifically the physical activity that comes along with it, actually helps children exceed in the classroom.


Pictured: Of the Pride Tank

Most recently Childinthecity.org published the findings of a new study in an article entitled, Outdoor play boosts children’s performance in class, new study says. The article points out that, “outdoor play should be recognized... as a full-time staple of healthy development throughout the school year.”  Rather than outdoor play or recess being considered a special treat, it should be considered a necessary asset of success.

Most specifically the article references the positive correlation that outdoor play has on developing executive functioning. “Executive functioning is defined as a set of mental processes that enable us to plan, prioritize, focus attention, filter distractions, and more.” Executive functioning enables us to learn better in the classroom and to succeed in everyday activities throughout life. The results of the study referenced showed that children who spent more time outdoors were more successful when testing their skills of executive functioning than those who spent less time outdoors.

An article published by Time in 2012 further reinforces these claims. The article explains, “In a review of 14 studies that looked at physical activity and academic performance, investigators found that the more children moved, the better their grades were in school.”  

Physical health is the most obvious and easily understood benefit of outdoor play. These studies, though, make it very clear that mental health and academic success are undeniable benefits as well.

3. Negative Correlation:  More Clean, Less Healthy

Our health relies, in part, on our skin interacting with nature. Nature, allows the microbiome of human skin to become and remain balanced.


Pictured: Bear Tee in Toddler 
For reference:

Microbiome / mi•cro•bi•ome: the microorganisms in a particular environment (including the body or a part of the body)

Microorganism / mi•cro•or•gan•ism: a microscopic organism, especially a bacterium, virus, or fungus.

Microbe / mi•cro•bi•ome: a microorganism, especially a bacterium causing disease or fermentation.

A microbiome is the collection of microorganisms (including microbes) that inhabit a given environment. It often describes a community that includes microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Your skin microbiome is essentially the sum of all the teeny tiny living things on your skin. Skin microbiome is developed in part from microbiomes of the environment and surfaces that we interact with.

As we increasingly sterilize our environments with chemical cleansers and the constant use of hand sanitizers we, in turn, limit the variety of skin microbiome. We are “cleaner” but we aren’t healthier.  Having a diverse skin microbiome provides benefit to the human immune system. Without diversity, there is an increased risk of contracting illnesses as well as developing diseases or other medical issues. Asthma is a direct example of a medical issue that has increased in correlation with our more sterile environments.


After studying a variety of research, David Suzuki of the David Suzuki Foundation concluded that getting dirty is healthy. In particular, he references the diversity of skin microbiome. A diverse skin microbiome is developed when humans interact with environments of a rich plant variety and the microbes found on those plants, Suzuki explains. Indoor environments do not provide the same health-benefiting microbes.

He goes on in more detail:
A microbe common to mud and wet soils, Mycobacterium vaccae, has been shown to influence brain neurotransmitters to reduce anxiety and improve cognitive functioning. Another microbe encountered in natural environments, Acinetobacter lwoffii, has been shown to benefit the human immune system, preventing asthma, hay fever and other ailments in children who have been exposed to it.

Furthermore, Suzuki found in a University of Helsinki study, that the decrease in the biodiversity of our environments can be blamed for the increasing prevalence of allergies. Two groups were compared. The group that was exposed to less biodiverse environments (less nature) were at an increased risk for a range of allergies than those who spent more time in nature. The difference, on their skin. Those who’d been exposed to more plants, had fewer allergies and an increased diversity of skin microbiome.

4. Life, is a Balancing Act

The ultimate stage for unstructured play and physical activity is the outdoor environment. Verywell.com defines unstructured play as “a category of play where children engage in open-ended play that has no specific learning objective... unstructured play is not instructor-led.”  Resulting from a rise in sedentary activities, things like interactive electronics, video games, unstructured play has declined.

With each generation, we see an increase in children’s time spent indoors. Children of our modern age are continuously offered “instructor-led” play, whether by electronic device or otherwise. The ever-growing trend of less-outdoor-time is harmonious with the increase in childhood obesity, lack of balance and sensory issues.

ultimate stage

We often rely on the studies and insight from pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Timbernook, Angela Hanscom. She notes a dramatic rise in children being referred to occupational therapists for sensory issues.

Hanscom explains,
“As we continue to decrease children’s time and space to move and play outdoors, we are seeing a simultaneous rise in the number of children that are presenting with sensory deficits."

Her article entitled, THE UNSAFE CHILD: Less Outdoor Play is Causing More Harm than Good, calls attention to the issues. In contrast to sedentary or “indoor” activities, outdoor play allows for a full range of sensory stimulation. A variety of sensory input in necessary, neurologically, to develop dynamic skills that allow humans to succeed as functioning adults later in life.

Consider all of the senses that are engaged when you succeed in your favorite physical activity. We depend on sensory skills.

balancing2Pictured: Gear List Tee

Underdeveloped vestibular systems, Hanscom notes, are more common in children with less exposure to the outdoors. The vestibular system is the part of the human body that is responsible for the ability to balance.

It is common knowledge that learning new physical activities later in life is more difficult than learning them as a child. Now, imagine the increased difficulty to learn new things when you have not fully developed a personal system for balance. By decreasing outdoor experience early in life, we inhibit the ability to learn new things later on. Ben Klasky in his 2014 TedTalk entitled, “Get Hooked on Nature,” explains that the number of kids getting outdoors every day has decreased to half in comparison to their parents' generation. The comparison is of children of the 1970s to those of the 2000s. In correlation, childhood obesity has tripled in the same measure of time.

Sedentary activities as our lifestyles change have increased dramatically. Unstructured, outdoor play, in turn, physical activity just isn’t happening naturally. Children depend on movement and physical activity for their health.


5. There’s No Protection Without Love

People preserve and protect what is valuable to them, what they feel connected to.

When you have a connection to something or someone, you’re more inclined to safeguard it or them from harm. Natural preservation comes simply from those who value nature. Value is the connection and the driving force.

Robert Zarr, MD is the leader of a program in Washington, DC called DC Park Prescription or DC Park Rx. Launched in 2013, the program encourages and trains physicians to prescribe nature as an antidote for children suffering from a wide range of diseases and other health issues. Nature, according to Zarr, MD “both prevents and treats our modern day plagues like obesity, asthma, and mental illness.”  While the health benefits are undeniably the primary force behind the program Zarr, MD explains that the Park Rx program also benefits the “health” of our environment. It helps children and parents alike, value nature.


He explains in detail:

“Because our health is intimately linked to the health of our environment, we can’t have one without the other.  In order to protect and conserve the environment, we must first value it.  In order to value it, we must know it, and in order to know it we must touch, smell, breathe, and experience Nature.” 


If you consider yourself someone that values nature, or works to preserve it, think of what brought you to do so. What experiences or motivators caused you to conclude that protecting and preserving the earth is a good idea?

Protect our Winters or POW,  is a well known organization in the outdoor space who advocates for the prevention of human-triggered climate change. They strive to protect the earth. Pro-snowboarder Jeremy Jones founded the non-profit in 2007. He found that an increasing number of ski resorts were closed due to lack of snow, resorts he’d once depended on for great riding conditions. The organization describes itself as a “passionate crew of diehards, professional athletes and industry brands.” Their careers, pastimes and passions are centered around mountains and snow. So, they fight to preserve those things.

preservationAuthor Randy White drew from extensive scholarly research on the subject to conclude that a loss of contact with nature results in a negative effect on nature. Unfortunately, in a world where children are less exposed to the natural environment, they are less inclined to protect it. The concept though, reversible. He leans on research that clearly supports that a love for nature grows  “out of children’s regular contact with and play in the natural world.”  If you love nature, you will preserve it. 

In Summary:

  • Sun exposure prevents Myopia, studies show

  • One study claims, each additional hour outside per week reduces risk of Myopia by 2%

  • Outdoor play improves executive functioning

  • Executive functioning is integral to academic success

  • When biodiversity of the human environment increases: illness, asthma and allergies decrease

  •  Unstructured play supports mental health, sensory skills, balance and a healthy weight

  • The outdoors: The ULTIMATE STAGE for unstructured play

  • Nature: Learn it, Value it, Love it, Protect it

Helping children become thriving, healthy individuals is no easy task. The factors involved in human development are infinitely numerous and often immeasurable. It takes a village, they say, to raise a child. It's exciting that we can in part, lean on nature and the outdoors for assistance. Nature lightens the load. Many of the challenges and ailments of the developmental years can be lessened by the outdoors. Tell the kids, "Go outside and play."

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