Why Kids Need to Be Outside

Eliza Clark
March 15, 2012

My girls are city girls, and I was a city girl too. Not just city girls, but New York City girls, all three. No yards, scarcely a sunny windowsill, our beloved Central Park shared with millions. It’s a concrete jungle here, and my kids climb more scaffolding than they do trees.

Do they have a bad case of Nature Deficit Disorder?

It’s possible. It may be lurking underneath their usually happy, generally healthy exteriors. Time will tell.

In my case, the Deficit made itself known in due time. The summer after my first year of college, I felt an inexplicable yearning for dirt.  Some friends and I found an organic farm in New Hampshire that was hiring workers for the summer, and spent two months rising before dawn to harvest kale and collard greens, strawberries and raspberries, baby lettuce, and tomatoes.  I pulled weeds with a hoe, fed seedlings into the back of a planter, and washed greens in a tub of icy water.  My back ached from morning to night, but I loved it enough to go back the next summer.

My severe case of Nature Deficit Disorder was pretty easy to cure. Nature is there, just waiting to make us healthier, happier, and bone tired: I never slept so well.

I don’t want my kids to feel quite as nature-deprived as I did, even though they are growing up in the same city. So whenever we can—weekends, school vacations, summer—we trundle off to visit friends and relatives who live in greener climes: grandparents upstate, cousins in Maine, friends in California. I like for the kids to have lots of time with no organized activities, just friends or cousins and time outside.

Here are some of the things I think they’ve gotten out of their time outside so far:

 

  • They’ve dealt with risks like getting stuck up a tree, or while climbing on rocks.
  • They’ve memorized the names of shells, trees and flowers.
  • They’ve built teepees and fairy houses out of sticks, rocks and moss.
  • They’ve encountered dead animals—a mole, a sea gull—and become fascinated rather than scared.
  • They’ve devised endless games of “spy” in the woods.
  • They’ve learned how long it takes them to fill a quart basket with blueberries in their uncle’s patch.

 

And much more.

There is no need for a host of intellectual arguments to know that these kinds of days outside are good for kids. It’s exercise, it’s creative play, it’s exposure to ecology and biology. There’s also no need to panic about their so-called Nature Deficit. Our state and national parks, farms, and backyards are all around us, beckoning, and it’s never too late to reconnect.

What about in your family? How do your children connect with nature?

From the Parents

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