Today’s parents feel the need to structure every hour of each day for their children, and this can result in the kids getting less fresh air and sunshine than is desirable for growing bodies. Children require time outdoors in order to develop physically, mentally and emotionally. Play allows children to stretch, develop little muscles and get their full day’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin D.
Many factors contribute to why children spend far too little time outside in the U.S. In many areas, society pressures parents to refrain from doing things once considered normal, like allowing their kids to walk to school unattended. Many schools lack the recess time they once offered, or school is now virtual. Here are the reasons why sunshine is important for the kids and why we as a society need to do better in helping tykes get the fresh air they need to thrive.
1. Sunshine Helps Kids Make Vitamin D
Vitamin D is an important mineral because without it, your body cannot convert calcium to a usable form. Children, with their growing bones, need ample vitamin D, and because this is a fat-soluble vitamin, supplementation can result in overdose. Allowing children to play outdoors for 10-15 minutes daily without sunscreen if they’re fair-skinned helps their bodies manufacture the perfect levels of this vital nutrient.
You make the most vitamin D when you expose large portions of the body to the sun, so let the kids take off their tops and play in the sprinkler over the summer. In the winter, have them sit near a sunny window daily, and do bundle them up and send them out unless the weather is truly too dreadful.
2. Going Outside Is Critical to Serotonin Production
Serotonin is our body’s natural antidepressant, which is why those with major depressive disorder often find relief through medications designed to let the body utilize the substance more efficiently. An example is the Japanese practice Shinrinyoku, or the art of forest-bathing, in which participants take short walks in a natural setting each day. Western science backs this up, with one study finding those who took a 90-minute walk in a natural area reduced activity in a part of the brain associated with depression.
3. Outdoor Play Helps Develop the Musculoskeletal System
Regular physical activity is an integral part of normal childhood development, and kids with insufficient levels experience a host of health problems and even developmental delays. Children who participate in regular exercise run a lower risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and osteoporosis later in life as well as lowered risks of various other conditions as well. Plus, outdoor play helps to regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycle naturally, making it easier to get unruly tots to lie down for a nap.
4. Sunshine and Going Outdoors Boosts Immune Function
Little kids always bring home the latest bug, making the entire family sick. Getting out and moving in the fresh air boosts immune function and helps stave off illness. But in many areas, parents have faced legal action for allowing their children to walk around their neighborhood unattended. You can’t be with your kids every waking minute, so how can you make sure they reap the immunity-boosting benefits of sunlight?
Consider installing a sunroom to your home. Sunrooms allow you to grow a healthy organic garden indoors any time of year, and they also allow your kids the immune system benefits of the sun without risking a visit from police.
5. Unstructured Play Aids in Emotional Development
Sure, signing the kids up for soccer gets their bodies moving in the sunshine, but unstructured outdoor play provides several key benefits. Unstructured play allows children to develop social and problem-solving skills. Unstructured time also allows children to tap into their creativity and imaginations as well as discover what makes them passionate. If you’re a teacher today, for example, you may have fond memories of playing school as a child.
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How to Get More Sunshine in Kids’ Lives
Now that you know the health benefits of sunshine for kids, how can you get more sun for your tykes? One way is by taking a family trip to the playground, park or other nature area each weekend. During the summer months, taking a bike ride to the farmers market can give you and the littles some sun. Heading out after dinner to play a game of catch or flag football can get young bodies moving in the outdoors as well.
As parents, we need to demand schools bring back recess time. Sadly, the children who need recess most are also most likely to have it denied due to behavioral issues which teachers and administrators. Increasing play time at school could curtail discipline problems before they start and decrease the numbers of students medicated for ADHD. If school looks different this year, it’s still important to schedule time during the day for your littles to get outside. That outdoor time can also be part of their learning.
Let Kids Be Kids and Play Outside
The best way to ensure our children take adequate levels of fresh air and sunshine is to get out and get moving with them. The benefits of the great outdoors don’t stop working at age 18, and you may find you improve your health and mood, too. And that makes you a better parent overall.
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Kacey Bradley is the lifestyle and travel blogger for The Drifter Collective, an eclectic lifestyle blog that expresses various forms of style through the influence of culture and the world around us. Kacey graduated with a degree in Communications while working for a lifestyle magazine. She has been able to fully embrace herself with the knowledge of nature, the power of exploring other locations and cultures, all while portraying her love for the world around her through her visually pleasing, culturally embracing and inspiring posts. Along with writing for her blog, she frequently writes for sites like US Travel News, Thought Catalog, Style Me Pretty, Tripping.com and more! Follow Kacey on Twitter and subscribe to her blog to keep up with her travels and inspiring posts!
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