Whether it’s the coast, valley or mountains, spending time outdoors provides a host of health benefits and learning opportunities for kids and adults. And you don’t have to travel far to experience them—from your backyard to school playgrounds and local parks, there is an abundance of opportunities to soak up the goodness that our natural surroundings provide.
“We are so lucky to live in Oregon,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “Our beautiful outdoors are a great place for children and parents to explore, connect and learn together.”
Healthy benefits of outdoor play
When kids spend time outside, it improves motor development, boosts mood, lowers the risk of obesity, promotes critical thinking, curiosity and creativity, and it allows kids and teens to absorb needed vitamin D from the sun.
Research shows that when children spend time in natural settings, they have less anger and aggression and lower levels of stress and depression. It’s also been shown that the more time a child spends in nature, the more likely they are to respect the outdoors and grow up to be good stewards of the environment.
Ideas for enjoying nature with kids
As a pediatrician and a mom, Dr. Bradshaw recommends taking hikes or walks with your kids or going camping. “Outings that allow children to explore nature are great ways to help our kids avoid summer slide, where they may forget some of the things they learned over the last school year,” she says.
Other ideas for outdoor fun include:
- Holding story time outside. Grab a blanket, a few books and find some shade to enjoy the fresh air.
- Going on a nature scavenger hunt to see how many different types of trees, plants and insects you can spot.
- Setting up outdoor playdates to help build social connections for both children and parents.
- Packing a picnic or planning a barbecue.
Kicking around a soccer ball, throwing a Frisbee or playing sports that your family enjoys can keep the outdoors fun as children get older. Spending time outside as a family also offers a much-needed break from screen time.
“Being together outside provides opportunities where we’re talking with each other, interacting and laughing and telling stories,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “It’s time when your kids are not only learning about nature with you but also just learning about you, so take advantage of those moments and enjoy them.”