Playing Outside is Good for Children; Here's How to Encourage Them

Just because it's fall and school is back in session is no reason to keep children from spending time outdoors.

The kids are back in school, so the lazy days of summer, when they ride their bikes all day long and play on the trampoline in the backyard, may have come to an end. But kids should still be spending as much time as they can outside.

"Playing outside makes them healthier," Debbie Greene, Superintendent of Pilcher Park Nature Center said. "They get fewer colds.

"It also helps them study better and children who even have a glimpse of nature outside their classrooms, score higher on tests than children who do not."

Greene just returned from The Grassroots Gathering for the Children in Nature Network, which is held yearly at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia.

Greene said fall is a great season to get the kids to go outside.

"Now that summer is over, you can rake all the leaves into a pile and jump in them," she said. "There are so many things in nature that you can go and look at; It’s truly one of the most beautiful seasons we have here."

Greene, who is a proponent of getting kids outside as much as possible, said the more exposure to nature the better. But, in the fall, with kids who are in sports or band or any variety of school-related activities, that may not be realistic.

"Any contact is better than none," Greene said.

For kids whose parents are counting time playing baseball or soccer on a team as time in nature, though, it may not be that simple. There are benefits to organized sports, but those benefits tend to differ from those of unstructured play.

"Outside, (kids) playing by themselves, or the illusion of playing by themselves, the thing that happens is they learn negotiation skills that they would not ordinarily have," Greene said.

But, how do you encourage kids to play outside?

Greene says it starts with the parents.

"Turn off the T.V.," she said.

In Illinois, in fall and winter, it may be more of a challenge, but if kids are dressed for the weather, they can play, even when it is rainy - perhaps especially when it's rainy.

"If it's damp and drizzly, let them go out and jump in puddles," Greene said.

Once kids fall in love with nature, they will love it for life. Greene has seen her students in the Little Sprouts program - a nature-based preschool that takes place at Pilcher Park Nature Center.

"By the end of the year, they are dragging you into the slime and the creek and the mud because they absolutely love it," she said.

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