Earth to Children: Come Out and Play!

Jun 13, 2024 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Once upon a time in a neighborhood perhaps not all that unlike your own, it was common to hear the happy sounds of children playing outside. Rather than send a text when supper was ready, you would more likely hear the long, loud voice of a parent shouting, “Amanda! Time for supper!” If Amanda was out of range to hear that clarion call, it would travel down the neighborhood “voice chain” until it reached the area where Amanda was outside with her friends, perhaps playing in a treehouse, lounging on the lawn, or splashing in the nearby creek. The parent of that home would announce to Amanda that it was indeed time to run home and wash up for supper.

Today’s children are less likely to romp around the neighborhood and are instead much more likely to be found inside in the air conditioning, sitting on the couch with a video game console in their laps or a phone grasped in their hands. There are many reasons for why this is happening, including the steadily increasing sophistication and availability of technology as well as parents’ fears for their children’s safety. Regardless of the reasons, children lose out on precious time that could have been spent in nature. 

A few years ago I was researching a different topic and came across an article on “earthing.” Not having heard the term before, I was intrigued. What I learned is that it essentially means that some part of the body, most typically a person’s bare feet, has direct skin contact with the Earth. At first I snickered. As I continued to ponder it, however, I grew more sober. What must it mean to our society if we have come so far from our connection with nature that we have to develop a term to describe something that should, for all intents and purposes, be innate? 

What are our children losing by not playing outside? One thing is that by not being in nature, children lose an appreciation for and deep connection to the natural world. If children aren’t exposed to the flora and fauna in their surroundings, they are less likely to feel a need to preserve them. It is by engaging in experiences in the natural world that people develop a love for and a desire to protect it. The natural world as a whole eventually suffers for lack of stewardship.

While that alone is a significant consequence of being disconnected from nature, the lack of time spent in nature affects children even more directly. Being outside, children feel freer to run and explore their surroundings. Doing so, they develop large body motor skills and enhance their balance and coordination. Children who regularly play outside are less likely to be obese. Another surprising benefit to children and teens who spend time playing outside is a lower incidence of myopia, also called nearsightedness (Glassy and Tandon). These are not the only physical benefits. There are many others imparted as well.

Children who spend time playing outside gain plenty of mental health benefits. Enjoying time outdoors lessens depression, anxiety, and anger (Glassy and Tandon), conditions that are becoming more synonymous with being a child in our postmodern world. Could it be that these psychological conditions are at least partially influenced by the younger generation’s lack of connection to the natural world? If this is so, is nature possibly at least a partial cure? Research resoundingly indicates, “Yes!”

How can you encourage children who prefer their screens to the trees to spend a bit more time in the wonderful, wild, and messy outdoors? Start small. Set a goal for them to spend time outside at least once every day for a little while and gradually grab a bit more time each day. The following list mentions just a few ways you can inspire your children to “earth” themselves in nature. There are plenty of possibilities, even for city dwellers.

  • Walk around the block. Pay attention to the sounds of nature around you: bird calls or the breeze whispering through the trees, for example. Walk in all kinds of weather, including rain, wind, and snow.
  • Start a potted herb garden.
  • Spend time walking in a nature reserve or park near your home.
  • Look for gardening or other nature-inspired classes in your area.
  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt in your neighborhood.
  • Multiply the fun! Find some friends and play hide-and-seek.
  • Help elderly neighbors by tidying their yards and garden beds.
  • Set up a sprinkler in the yard and enjoy the sun and spray!
  • Prepare a picnic lunch and enjoy a picnic outside.
  • Spread a beach blanket on the grass and relax in the sun. Notice the clouds and imagine. What shapes do you spot?
  • Go fishing.
  • Step outside at night and gaze up at the stars. Learn about the phases of the moon.
  • Grab a tree identification guide and take a walk in the neighborhood. Gather a few leaves to press into a notebook.
  • Participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count.
  • Get involved in geocaching or letterboxing. All ages enjoy a treasure hunt!
  • Start a rock collection from specimens you find around you. Be a responsible collector. 

I have a special memory of spending time in the great outdoors as a child. All these years later, I can still draw upon the senses I experienced during that moment. It is so special that I wrote a blog post about it, “Beauty, Adventure, and Skunks—Oh My!” I hope you enjoy reading it. 

Are you interested in learning more about how vital nature is to people’s overall health? Listen to Podcast Episode 348: Nature Deficit Disorder. In it Andrew Pudewa and Julie Walker discuss how nature produces such a positive impact in lives. Listening to the episode, you may become more inspired to prioritize spending time outside. More so, you may even be surprised and pleased by how much happier, healthier, and relaxed you become once you do!

by Jennifer Mauser

Work Cited

Glassy, Danette, and Pooja Tandon. “Playing Outside: Why It’s Important for Kids.” 

HealthyChildren.Org, American Academy of Pediatrics, 13 May 2024,


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