Go Outside With Your Children

by Sheila Carrollandoverparents
Guest Contributor

Does it seem odd that we might need reasons for enjoying the outdoors? Nature is good for children. This seems fundamental and hardly necessary to point out. Yet, in recent decades parents have little by little eliminated unstructured outdoor time for their children. They opt instead to carpool to team sports, martial arts classes or other pastimes that do not involve direct experience with nature.

Worse yet, children spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with television, computers and video games. Research has shown that a child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, says that children spend approximately 15 minutes outdoors each week. Louv points to the rise in attention-deficit disorders and suggests that corresponding decrease in outdoor time may be part of the problem.  Why is it so important for children to be outdoors? On NicheReviewed.com they make a great argument about the lost way of transport in America, the mountain bike!

Here are five reasons to get outdoors with your children:

1) Strong bodies

Vigorous outdoor play stretches muscles which signal the body to build more. Play improves hand-eye coordination. Vitamin D, dubbed the sunshine vitamin because that is where we get most of this essential element, is needed for the uptake of calcium in our bodies. Regular experience of the rhythms of nature lowers the blood pressure and makes the body ready for rest.

2) Strong minds

Close study of insects, plants animals builds the basis of scientific inquiry. Albert Einstein, the greatest mind of the twentieth century, said that if we look deeply into we will understand other things better in the light of it.

Direct experience of nature is essential to optimal cognitive development Cognitive development is the growth of perception, memory, language, concepts, and thinking in children. Certain kinds of physical movement and experiences which can only be found outdoors help a child mature with all his abilities.

3) Emotional health

Time outdoor gives a child a perspective on the day’s events, reduces anxiety and stress of sitting in school for long hours. Learning to care for something of the natural world—plant, animal or insect—teaches caring and considering the needs of others.

4) Self-esteem

Learning to climb a tree, make a snow man, tunnel through leaves, get lost and find your way home, build a fort, find a salamander under a log, watch a sunset till it’s all the way down—all these build confidence in our ability to overcome a fear, accept a challenge, or learn to be quiet. Without these experiences we tend to feel we are weak or able to function in only certain types of situations.

5) A capacity for wonder

Rachel Carson, in The Sense of Wonder, wrote that a sense of wonder has something far more powerful at work than mere delight. It gives us reserves of strength, a sense of proportion, and a deep abiding desire to know more. Wonder open our hearts and minds and keeps us from being jaded about life.

So, go outdoors with your children—share the discovery of nature. A child learns to spend time outdoors through the companionship of an adult. He learns how to respond, explore, and find his way with someone who has the same curiosity as himself. The adult, of course, has the pleasure of re-discovery.

Sheila Carrol is the founder of Living Books Curriculum, a home education curriculum based on the teachings and philosophies of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the last century.  The curriculum packages provide instruction in the traditional subjects such as history, language arts, and science and incorporate classic literature, nature studies, narration, storytelling, and the use of local resources to enhance the educational experience.  For information, go to:  http://charlottemasonhomeschooling.com/

One response to “Go Outside With Your Children

  1. Last Child in the Woods ––
    Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,
    by Richard Louv
    Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
    November 16, 2006

    In this eloquent and comprehensive work, Louv makes a convincing case for ensuring that children (and adults) maintain access to pristine natural areas, and even, when those are not available, any bit of nature that we can preserve, such as vacant lots. I agree with him 100%. Just as we never really outgrow our need for our parents (and grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.), humanity has never outgrown, and can never outgrow, our need for the companionship and mutual benefits of other species.

    But what strikes me most about this book is how Louv is able, in spite of 310 pages of text, to completely ignore the two most obvious problems with his thesis: (1) We want and need to have contact with other species, but neither we nor Louv bother to ask whether they want to have contact with us! In fact, most species of wildlife obviously do not like having humans around, and can thrive only if we leave them alone! Or they are able tolerate our presence, but only within certain limits. (2) We and Louv never ask what type of contact is appropriate! He includes fishing, hunting, building “forts”, farming, ranching, and all other manner of recreation. Clearly, not all contact with nature leads to someone becoming an advocate and protector of wildlife. While one kid may see a beautiful area and decide to protect it, what’s to stop another from seeing it and thinking of it as a great place to build a house or create a ski resort? Developers and industrialists must come from somewhere, and they no doubt played in the woods with the future environmentalists!

    It is obvious, and not a particularly new idea, that we must experience wilderness in order to appreciate it. But it is equally true, though (“conveniently”) never mentioned, that we need to stay out of nature, if the wildlife that live there are to survive. I discuss this issue thoroughly in the essay, “Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans!”, at http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3.

    It should also be obvious (but apparently isn’t) that how we interact with nature determines how we think about it and how we learn to treat it. Remember, children don’t learn so much what we tell them, but they learn very well what they see us do. Fishing, building “forts”, mountain biking, and even berry-picking teach us that nature exists for us to exploit. Luckily, my fort-building career was cut short by a bee-sting! As I was about to cut down a tree to lay a third layer of logs on my little log cabin in the woods, I took one swing at the trunk with my axe, and immediately got a painful sting (there must have been a bee-hive in the tree) and ran away as fast as I could.

    On page 144 Louv quotes Rasheed Salahuddin: “Nature has been taken over by thugs who care absolutely nothing about it. We need to take nature back.” Then he titles his next chapter “Where Will Future Stewards of Nature Come From?” Where indeed? While fishing may bring one into contact with natural beauty, that message can be eclipsed by the more salient one that the fish exist to pleasure and feed humans (even if we release them after we catch them). (My fishing career was also short-lived, perhaps because I spent most of the time either waiting for fish that never came, or untangling fishing line.) Mountain bikers claim that they are “nature-lovers” and are “just hikers on wheels”. But if you watch one of their helmet-camera videos, it is easy to see that 99.44% of their attention must be devoted to controlling their bike, or they will crash. Children initiated into mountain biking may learn to identify a plant or two, but by far the strongest message they will receive is that the rough treatment of nature is acceptable. It’s not!

    On page 184 Louv recommends that kids carry cell phones. First of all, cell phones transmit on essentially the same frequency as a microwave oven, and are therefore hazardous to one’s health –- especially for children, whose skulls are still relatively thin. Second, there is nothing that will spoil one’s experience of nature faster than something that reminds one of the city and the “civilized” world. The last thing one wants while enjoying nature is to be reminded of the world outside. Nothing will ruin a hike or a picnic faster than hearing a radio or the ring of a cell phone, or seeing a headset, cell phone, or mountain bike. I’ve been enjoying nature for over 60 years, and can’t remember a single time when I felt a need for any of these items.

    It’s clear that we humans need to reduce our impacts on wildlife, if they, and hence we, are to survive. But it is repugnant and arguably inhumane to restrict human access to nature. Therefore, we need to practice minimal-impact recreation (i.e., hiking only), and leave our technology (if we need it at all!) at home. In other words, we need to decrease the quantity of contact with nature, and increase the quality.


    Ehrlich, Paul R. and Ehrlich, Anne H., Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearances of Species. New York: Random House, 1981.

    Errington, Paul L., A Question of Values. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1987.

    Flannery, Tim, The Eternal Frontier — An Ecological History of North America and Its Peoples. New York: Grove Press, 2001.

    Foreman, Dave, Confessions of an Eco-Warrior. New York: Harmony Books, 1991.

    Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, 1995.

    Louv, Richard, Last Child in the Woods — Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

    Noss, Reed F. and Allen Y. Cooperrider, Saving Nature’s Legacy: Protecting and Restoring Biodiversity. Island Press, Covelo, California, 1994.

    Reed, Sarah E. and Adina M. Merenlender, “Quiet, Nonconsumptive Recreation Reduces Protected Area Effectiveness”. Conservation Letters, 2008, 1–9.

    Stone, Christopher D., Should Trees Have Standing? Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1973.

    Vandeman, Michael J., http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/ecocity3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/india3, http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/sc8, and http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande/goodall.

    Ward, Peter Douglas, The End of Evolution: On Mass Extinctions and the Preservation of Biodiversity. New York: Bantam Books, 1994.

    “The Wildlands Project”, Wild Earth. Richmond, Vermont: The Cenozoic Society, 1994.

    Wilson, Edward O., The Future of Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

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