STATE OF OPPORTUNITY. Can Kids in Michigan Get Ahead?
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
This special reporting project wrapped up in May 2017. Read more.

Want to get your kids outside to play? Start with a stick

toddler playing in water
swong95765 / Flickr CC / HTTP://J.MP/1SPGCL0

What is your fondest childhood memory?

I remember playing outside almost every day until the street lights came on.

Riding bikes. Hanging out with friends at the park. Long before tablets and smart phones were a source of entertainment.

But a recent survey of 1,001 parents with kids between ages 4 and 14 found kids today spend much less time playing outside than their parents did.

According to The Guardian, the survey by the U.K.'s National Trust found while 83% of parents questioned thought it was important for their children to learn to use technology, nine out of 10 would prefer if they spent their childhood outdoors, developing a connection with nature.

Researchers found that on average, the parents questioned said they spent over eight hours a week outside when they were children. But their kids? Just over four hours a week.

I'm sure one reason is the rise of technology. But it could also be that families' schedules are increasingly over-scheduled. According to PBS:

Few children get to experience the kind of summers idealized in movies — playing games and riding bikes with their friends in the neighborhood. Research shows that can mean weight gain and a loss of academic skills, especially for low-income children. A 2007 study found one measure of weight increased up to twice as fast for some children during the summer when compared to weight gain during the school year. Other research concludes children can lose as much as two months of math and reading proficiency over the summer.

When kids play outside it helps them make friends, build a sense of community, stimulates their imagination, and evenimproves their immunity, among other benefits.

So, how do you get kids out of the house? According to the National Trust, you can start with a stick. Raleigh Ritchie is a spokesperson for the National Trust and actor on the HBO series Game of Thrones. He said:

For some people, a stick is just a stick. However, I want to encourage young people to see that actually the possibilities are endless. It can be a pen, a sword, a witch’s broom, a dragon’s bone ... anything. That’s what childhood should be about: getting outdoors and going on adventures, using your imagination to customize the world you see and feeding that appetite for fresh air and fun.

As a working mom, I know it can be challenging to carve out time (and energy) to make sure your kids go outside and play, especially when they're younger and can't go out alone. So, where do you start?

Parents Magazine has put together a list of fun outdoor activities you can check out here. And the National Trust has put together a list of 50 things for children to do before they turn 12 to get them engaging with the outdoors, including climbing a tree, building a den, hunting for bugs and going stargazing. Have fun!

Paulette is a blogger for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously interned as a reporter in the Michigan Radio newsroom.