The Importance of Getting Kids to ‘Unplug’ and get Outside

Research shows that youth who play outside are happier, more focused, and less anxious than youth who spend more time indoors. Then why are young people spending more and more time inside? University of Michigan found that the average American child spends less than 30 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, and over 6 hours a day in front of a screen. To describe how modern kids have a severe lack of time and opportunities outside, author Richard Louv coined the term “Nature-Deficit Disorder”. Louv interviewed a child who once told him how he enjoyed indoor play more than outdoor play “’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are”.

We know why getting outdoors is good for kids: It helps them be active, builds their confidence, and encourages imagination and creativity. Time outdoors also helps reduce a child’s stress and fatigue. Time indoors involves ‘directed attention’, which requires people to ignore distractions and interruptions, which can exhaust your brain. In an outdoor natural environments, we exercise a relaxed type of attention known as ‘soft fascination’, which can create feelings of happiness. Research has even show that being outside makes children nicer, improving social connections, value for community, and close relationships.

At 4-H Camp Overlook, we value the idea of unstructured outdoor free time. While we love our camp classes and all that they teach, outdoor free time allows campers a different chance to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. American Academy of Pediatrics encourages free play as it protects children’s emotional development, whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression. When campers are enjoying outdoor free time, they can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the natural world in inventive ways. It also gives them the great opportunity to connect with peers and mentors, all without the aid of technology. Getting back to basics is what camp is all about!

For more information on how time outside can be beneficial to a child’s development, visit and the . To learn more about the outdoor programs offered at 4-H Camp Overlook, call 518.483.4769.

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