It’s a familiar refrain: kids are not spending enough time outdoors. Much has been written about the nature deficit that seems so pervasive, and about the potential implications for the future of a generation of kids that lack a relationship with the natural world. While solving this problem seems simple, it has not been easy. Science confirms what we sense on our own: kids need to spend time outdoors.
Travel can be very beneficial for children. Exposing them to new places and people widens their perspective, teaches them adaptability, and increases their capacity for empathy and cultural sensitivity. Traveling with children at all stages of their development can prove beneficial in the long term.
At the intersection of spending time outdoors and having new experience is outdoor travel. For many reasons, it is increasingly popular to spend family vacations camping or otherwise experiencing natural wonders, near and far. Research tells us this is a wonderful trend that should be encouraged, since outdoor travel may be one of the best gifts we can give our children. Here’s why:
Statistically, (https://www.businessinsider.com/why-spending-more-time-outside-is-healthy-2017-7#enjoying-the-outdoors-helps-eliminate-fatigue-4) kids who spend time outdoors and travel frequently are healthier. The benefits of outdoor travel on physical health in children and adults are clear: lower blood pressure, decreased risk of obesity, and even signs of increased production of anti-cancer proteins. Spending time outdoors is also good for children’s eyesight, and may reduce their risk of becoming nearsighted.
The benefits of mental health are no less significant. Time spent in nature is known to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and kids who play outside show improved memory skills and ability to focus. For many kids diagnosed with ADHD, playing outside is a part of their treatment, with remarkable results.
The health benefits of outdoor play are so strong that many pediatricians have begun prescribing it (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/16/well/writing-prescriptions-to-play-outdoors.html) to their patients. Many issues faced by kids today are not solved with a pill.
Children have always been drawn to playing outside because it is a crucial part of their natural development. Many of the physical and cognitive skills we rely on as adults are formed in the playgrounds, forests, streams, and open fields of our earliest years. The decrease of these experiences may factor into why there has been an increase in developmental disorders over a relatively short period of time. There is simply no way to simulate the experience of being outside adequately.
Physically, outdoor play helps kids develop gross motor skills, coordination, and balance. Natural environment plays a part in developing a strong immune system and even affects their bones and contributes to a healthy skeletal system.
Cognitive skills, such as problem solving and cooperation, also develop in the outdoors. Kids also learn risk management when they are allowed to play outside independently and unsupervised. This idea has become somewhat controversial, especially in recent years, as so-called “free-range parents” (https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/parenting/a26824973/free-range-parenting/) have risked government intervention, leading many states to create “free-range child” laws. Experts agree, however, that unsupervised outdoor play is very beneficial for healthy cognitive development. Kids who are not allowed to test their own limits struggle to learn healthy risk management skills.
Kids are naturally curious and absorb more than adults realize about the world around them. Outdoor travel gives opportunities to learn geography, history, geology, biology, and so much more, in natural and unforced ways. Travel allows them to experience wildlife they would not usually see in their backyard or neighborhood park. It exposes them to climates and ecosystems they could otherwise only read about in a book. They learn about all of these things even if they are not formally studying these things during the trip.
Traveling and spending time outdoors helps kids build connections that they will use later. A preschool child may not understand warm- and cold-blooded creatures, but when it comes up in school, they will remember watching a lizard resting on a sunny rock in the desert or the alligators congregating on the sunny side of the river in the Everglades. Experiential learning is deep and long-lasting.
Environmental stewardship is easier caught than taught. A child who has been given the opportunity to witness the wonders of the natural world is easily convinced of how and why it should be preserved. Conversations about personal responsibility happen naturally when kids find trash along the side of a trail or see a plastic bottle bobbing in the water of an otherwise picturesque stream.
The key to reducing human destruction of the environment is not simply to teach people what to do and what not to do, but to help them to care about the environment they’re impacting. Outdoor travel gives kids a lifelong connection to their world and a better understanding of their place in it.
Outdoor travel forces us to leave behind many of the distractions that occupy our day to day lives. When ur gadgets are beyond wifi range, we turn them off and read a book or go for a walk. Watching TV in the evening is replaced with gathering around a campfire where stories are told, and deep conversations are not interrupted. There is time and space to be together.
Shared experiences form a foundation for solid relationships. They give us common ground to return to when conflict arises later. Witnessing something majestic together, like the view from the top of a mountain or a moose drinking from a river in the twilight, forms an unexplainable bond. Family travel in the outdoors benefits the whole family as a unit. It is no secret that strong family relationships set children up to thrive in all areas of life.
Fosters Creativity and Exploration
It has been estimated that 65% of children entering primary school today will spend their adult lives working jobs that do not currently exist. (http://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/chapter-1-the-future-of-jobs-and-skills/#view/fn-1)How can we help prepare kids for a world that we cannot even imagine? By giving them the tools to imagine it.
While literacy and math skills are essential, success in the future will also require skills that are hard to measure with a test or a grade: creativity, complex problem solving, critical thinking, and emotional intelligence. Children are born with an innate foundation for these skills that can either be encouraged to grow and develop or discouraged and stifled. Not surprisingly, outdoor play and travel are both ways to nurture these skills. Giving freedom and opportunity to explore new and unknown environments is one of the greatest gifts we can give to a child. Ironically, one of the best ways to prepare children to keep up with advances in technology seems to be in the absence of it.
The benefits of outdoor travel for children are both immediate and long-lasting. Investing in these experiences with our kids is fun and healthy now and a gift for their futures. Renting an RV is a perfect way to explore more than one area and live close to nature without sacrificing the basic comforts of home. Let Outdoorsy help you hit the road with your family!
Suggested links for further reading
Harvard Health: 6 Reasons Children Need to Play Outside https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/6-reasons-children-need-to-play-outside-2018052213880
Porto Biomedical Journal: The Importance of Outdoor Play for Young Children’s Healthy Development https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2444866416301234
Park Prescriptions http://parkrx.org/
The Children and Nature Network https://www.childrenandnature.org/