The Great Outdoors

What’s so great about the Great Outdoors?

It is April and we are now officially in spring; time to be outdoors. As a culture, people in America have become housebound creatures. Most of us work indoors, schools have cut recess breaks to less than 20 minutes per day, and who walks to work or school anymore? But did you know that being outdoors, freely playing in nature, is essential for children´s psychological, emotional, and physical development?

recently came upon a series of blogs at This Michigan-based writer has decided to raise her children outside, her hope is for them to be outdoors 4-6 hours daily, 1000 hours in a year. Before you become cynical, listen to the reasons why and then to the how-to-do it all.

When a child is outdoors, there is constant possibility for sensory development: hanging upside down a (vestibular); running, climbing (proprioceptive); learning bird songs and woodland noises (auditory); understanding the identity of trees and plants (visual); playing in the snow and sand, holding a bug or a snake (tactile); eating berries and nuts (oral); smelling dirt and flowers (olfactory). In addition, free play outdoors allows children to build self-confidence, to develop character, to understand the world around them and the ways of nature.

Let’s circle back to the goal of 1000 hours outdoors in one year. How in the world can you achieve such a monumental goal? Well, think about it. It is about 20 hours a week, so 3 hours or so a day. We now track everything from steps, calories, to carbs, workouts, reading time, screen time, why not time outdoors? We live in an area that has difficult weather winter and summer, but so what? Be prepared, bundle up, plan around it, and get those kiddos outside.

Here are some ideas for refocusing your time to being outdoors, both together as a family and for your kids by themselves:

  • Make being outdoors an extracurricular activity, as important as baseball, soccer, dance, or tennis.
  • Take family walks, hikes, and adventures outdoors. Check out kalcounty for county parks. We have Kalamazoo Nature Center, Asylum Lake Trails, Au Sable Preserve, Kleinstuck Preserve, Chipman Preserve, Fred McLinden Nature Trails, Robert Morris Park, Eliason Nature Reserve, Bow in the Clouds Preserve, Oshtemo Township Park, and Delano Farms just for our exploring and enjoyment. ( lesser-known parks & trails to discover in Kalamazoo, MI).
  • Make the end of the day a time outdoors: Sit on the porch, walk your neighborhood, play a game in the yard, grab the dog and off you go. Turn off the TV and turn on the connection in fresh air. No time for date night? Here is the perfect alternative.
  • Don’t hover as a parent – let your children explore and play by themselves. Encourage them to seek out what interests them alone or with their siblings or a friend.
  • Weather is your friend. Pull on those rain boots and grab an umbrella. Don´t forget to splash in the puddles and play in the mud.
  • The number 1 toy of all time? A stick. The second? A box. Another? Dirt. What fun can be had with all three? (5 Best Toys of all Time wired).
  • Plant a garden. Don’t have a spot, use your patio and some pots. Flowers, veggies, or herbs. Research shows digging in the dirt is a counterbalance for depression and kids love dirt (see above).

I’ll be watching for you – outdoors!


Dr. Susan Carter is a child and family psychologist and Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor in private practice in a nature preserve in Kalamazoo, MI.