Study: Kids in Green Neighborhoods Play Outside More

Photo: Michael Devlin
Sometimes it takes academia a while to catch up with things we ‘know’ at a gut level. Case in point: a recent study published in the International Journal of Health Geographics, Tweeted along by childhood researcher and “play advocate” Tim Gill, shows that pre-school kids who live in greener neighborhoods are more likely to play outside.

Take it away, Diana S Grigsby-Toussaint, Sang-Hyun Chi and Barbara H. Fiese (PDF):

“… [E]xposure to greener neighborhoods encourages children to spend more time outdoors where they may reap both physiological and cognitive benefits. Conversely, children with the lowest levels of neighborhood greenness were least likely to spend time playing outdoors, engaging in active or quiet play (rainy day kids).

In addition to their own research, the authors point to examples including “initiatives using landscape architecture to create green elementary school grounds in Canada, which found a 70% increase in light and moderate physical activity among children.”

Those of us lucky enough to grow up with backyards and trees get this, and a growing body of research shows why it’s especially important: children who play outside are healthier, more creative in their play and more likely (PDF) to have positive attitudes toward nature (and environmentally conscious behavior) when they grow up. Plus, all those “physiological and cognitive benefits.”

However, verdant parks and other spaces aren’t enough:

While neighborhood greenness influenced levels of physical activity among these preschool-aged children, as Cleland et al [35] observed, parental support factors such as engaging in physical activity with children also plays a role. This may explain why sporty kids were more likely to engage in much more active outdoor physical activity compared to rainy day kids, although both groups lived in areas with similar levels of neighborhood greenness.

As always, parents and other adults have an important role. The study underscores this along with the importance of giving non-green-neighborhood kids the opportunity to connect with the outdoors—refer back to this post on nature’s healing potential, where I linked to the story of an abuse survivor who spends time leading inner-city kids on hikes and backpacking trips. Bottom line: children sometimes need help to connect to nature.

To learn more, take a look at Kristy Myers’s five tips for spending time in nature with your family, see our Outdoors and Family Channel for easy winter outdoor activities or check out how you can get involved in NWF’s Be Out There campaign to connect kids with nature.