Study: Many Young Kids’ Parents Don’t Take Them Outside

It's important for parents to instill a love of the outdoors early in their kids' lives (flickr | dmhergert)
It’s truly spring—though a bit too warm—when a kid’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of running around outside.

Unfortunately, many young children may not be getting the chance, per a new study published online by the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine:

“On average, we found that about half of preschool children in this nationally representative sample are not being taken outside to play daily by either of their parents.

For children who do not have a regular child care arrangement besides their parents (and therefore, likely do not have other structured venues or care providers to take them outside on a regular basis), 42 percent did not go outside daily.

The authors added that the report “highlight(s) the considerable room for improvement in parent-supervised outdoor play opportunities for preschool-aged children, which could have numerous benefits for young children’s physical health and development […] [i]n particular, efforts are needed to increase active outdoor play in children who are girls and nonwhite.”

It can be a struggle for busy modern families to carve out regular time to acclimate their kids to nature, but it’s important to try. That’s because kids whose parents don’t take them outside before they hit school age might already be on the path to a screen-bound, indoor childhood.

In recent years, despite more of an emphasis on schools doing their part to fight youth inactivity and obesity, the School Health Policies and Programs Study (SHPPS), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that that some schools may be cutting back on the time available for recess and PE in order to fit as much classroom time as possible into the school day. According to a 2007 survey and study from the Center on Education Policy,  20% of school districts reported had decreased time for recess—and by an average of 50 minutes per week—under No Child Left Behind. Students at high-minority, high-poverty or urban schools are especially recess-starved.

LiveScience’s Stephanie Pappas also points out that free time has declined over the last couple of decades: “in 1989, a survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals found that 96 percent of elementary schools had at least one recess during the day. By 1999, only 70 percent of kindergarten classrooms had recess.”

Meanwhile, according to a recent report (PDF) compiled by Stephen Moss on behalf of the UK’s National Trust, the education and health of kids is suffering as they spend less time with nature.


We all know the benefits being outdoors can bring, and as parents we want our children to spend more time outdoors than they do. But despite this overwhelming evidence and the different initiatives and schemes run by organisations across the UK, our kids are spending less and less time in the outdoors.

The time to act is now, whilst we still have a generation of parents and grandparents who grew up outdoors and can pass on their experience and whilst there remains a determination to do something positive in this area.

Children who play outside regularly are healthier, more creative in their play, show better concentration, sleep better and get along better with others. Sometimes ignored but no less important, research (PDF) has shown that outdoor activities like hiking or camping can positively influence a kid’s attitudes toward nature (and environmentally conscious behavior) when they grow up. It’s important for parents to instill a love of the outdoors when their kids are young—hoping that recess will take care of it a few years down the road may not be realistic.

You can read NWF’s Whole Child Report here for more on the benefits of outdoor play, use NWF’s Activity Finder to explore ideas for helping your kids connect with nature or read up on First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. See our quick ‘Be Out There’ guide for parents if you’re not quite sure where to start, or browse the fullOutdoor Play for Every Day: A Parent’s Guide for Overcoming Common Obstacles to Kids and Outdoor Play.”