Childhood has moved indoors – get them outside!

by Ann Aull, Early Childhood Adult Educator

Childhood has moved indoors.  The average American child spends only 30 minutes in unstructured outdoor playtime[i] as opposed to nearly seven hours of screen time.[ii]  As child care providers, we know that parents often enroll children in organized sports early and spend time outside watching children play.  Guess what? All those summer soccer and baseball games do not count as the type of outdoor play that children need.  It is up to us to make sure the children in our care are getting the play time they need to nurture their body, mind, and spirit.

Here are a few of the benefits outside time can provide our children:


  • Children run, jump, skip, and climb outside, which naturally increases fitness levels and prevents childhood obesity.
  • Outside time raises levels of Vitamin D, which helps children prevent future health problems.


  • Exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms.
  • Children learn to assess risk and solve problems on their own.


  • Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces.
  • Play protects children’s emotional development.
  • Nature makes children nicer, enhancing social relationships.

Even the simplest experiences can enhance children’s experiences outside.  I had the opportunity to visit the town of Reggio Emilia in Italy when I worked as a teacher at St. Mary’s Child Center.  Giving children the opportunity to experience nature was a priority for these schools.  At a center for infants and toddlers, the teachers put a large mirror down on a grassy area for the mobile infants to explore.  While observing the play, I realized that for infants who just learned to crawl, this could have been their first experience with the sky!  The teachers took pictures so the parents could also share in their child’s joyous discovery of the world around them.  As child care providers, we can make a difference so let’s get them outside!

Here are some resources for you to get the children in your life out in nature!

Indiana Children & Nature Network: Places to play outdoors in Indiana

Nature Net: Things kids can do outside

Visit Indy: Top 10 outdoor spaces


[i] Children under 13 spend only 30 minutes per week in unstructured play time outdoors – Sandra Hofferth and J. Sandberg (1999)

[ii] Children between the ages of 8 and 18 years spend an average of nearly 6.5 hours a day with electronic media – Rideout, V. and Hamel, E. (2006). The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parent. Kaiser Family Foundation. (Note: Remember this was published in 2006. Think of how much bigger Facebook, iPhones and iPads have become since then.)

Cover image by Flickr user Jeff BoydCreative Commons license.

3 responses on “Childhood has moved indoors – get them outside!

  1. Tyler Meredith

    I like what this article mentions about the physical benefits of letting the kids play outside more often. It makes sense that things like jumping and running generally aren’t permitted indoors but are essential for childhood activity. I’ll have to remember this for my son because we need to have him in a child care program and making sure he’ll be getting sufficient outdoor time could put my mind at ease.

  2. William Tippins

    The sad reality is that we can’t let kids roam free anymore. But it’s not because the world is more dangerous today than when today’s parents were growing up (It isn’t). Here’s why:

    1) Americans are having less children, and they’re having them later in life. The birth rate for US women stands at 1.9 as of 2014, compared to 3.7 in the 1950s. One in five women in their 40s are childless today compared to one in ten in the 1970s. That coupled with our increased urban sprawl means kids are few and far between. A kid isn’t going to want to play outside if there aren’t any other kids out there. We humans are social creatures, after all. It’s no fun doing things alone. In this scenario, parents really have no choice but to enroll their kid in structured activities, simply because that’s where all the other kids are.

    2) I’m old enough to remember life before smartphones and tablets, but today’s children have never known a world without them. They simply cannot function without their screens.

    We lose some of our old ways as we move forward in time. Some for the better, some for the worse. You can be nostalgic about the “good ole days” all you want, but those days are never coming back.

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