Kids don't spend enough time in nature, study shows

A two-year study by the English government has found that some kids haven't set foot in a park, forest, or beach for over a year. The lack of connection to nature is staggering and very tragic.

Imagine not setting foot in a park, forest, beach, or other natural environment for at least 12 months. What may seem impossible to TreeHugger’s nature-loving readers is, unfortunately, a reality for many children in England. A new two-year study by the government has discovered that more than 10 percent of children haven’t spent time in any natural setting for at least one year.

The study found that children from black, Hispanic, Asian, and other visible minority families were the least likely to venture out of urban settings into nature, with just 56 percent of kids aged under-16 from these households going into nature at least once a week. For white children and those from higher income households, that number was 74 percent.

What is going on?

There are a number of reasons why kids struggle to spend time in nature. First and foremost, their parents need to enable their access to nature by taking them there. Parents’ attitude toward nature has a big effect on their children. The Guardian reports:

“The enthusiasm of parents for green spaces strongly influenced whether children visited natural environments. In households where adults were frequent visitors, 82% of children followed their lead. In households where the adults rarely or never visited the natural environment, the proportion of children visiting fell to 39%.”

While low-income, inner city kids have to deal with gang problems, and country-dwelling children have to look out for busy highways, middle-class kids in suburbia have to deal with parents obsessed with extracurricular activities, leaving no time for free outdoor play, and homes full of captivating screens with few limitations.

The Guardian quotes Natalie Johnson of The Wild Network, a group that's on a noble mission to "rewild" childhood:

“In middle class suburbia, [the biggest barrier] is the parents – how do you tell parents that the time children play freely outside is as important as their French lesson, their ballet lesson and their Mandarin lesson?”

Birder David Lindo says another problem is the lack of role models from ethnic minorities, both on wildlife TV shows and out in the field, which makes many children from those backgrounds feel uncomfortable. He says, “Once they see someone else of their ethnicity they think, ‘Oh, it’s okay now’.”

Environmental groups are notorious for not showing diversity in their advertising. One American study found them to be worse than the business and sports sectors at integrating visible minorities into photos, which could be part of the reason why nature tends to be viewed as a white person’s pastime.

Why does it matter?

Kids need to spend time outdoors. Free play fosters creativity, calms them and keeps them rooted, creates a bond with the outdoors and other playmates, provides exercise and fresh air, improves their balance and strength, teaches them about risk assessment and problem solving, and helps them become confident in navigating their own neighborhood and beyond.

There are countless benefits to spending time outdoors, as many parents should know, since ours was the last generation to spend any significant amount of time outdoors and likely have many wonderful memories of that playtime. While a few schools have stepped up their act and commitment to getting kids outside, much of that responsibility still falls to parents – to establish those habits that will last throughout their kids’ lives. So take your kids outside today, or send them to play on their own in the yard, if possible. And keep doing that, every single day, until it becomes part of your regular routine.

Tags: Education | England | Kids | Nature

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