From Camp Tuhsmeheta Director Jill Teegardin 

Catching fireflies, building tree forts, riding bikes, and roaming through the woods are all memories I recall when I think back on my own childhood. I grew up on 60 acres of wooded property, in a log home hand-built by my parents. If you remember Laura Ingalls Wilder (one of my favorite authors as a child), you could say we had our own “little house in the big woods.” Some of my best childhood memories include growing up on this property and engaging in outdoor activities such as making trails through the woods, swimming in the local creek, climbing trees, and cutting wood.

Not all children have the opportunity to grow up with a big backyard or creek to play in. Some children have the opportunity, but the adults in their lives won’t allow them to experience it. It may be challenging to find the time or resources to provide a child with outdoor experiences, but I believe one of the first steps is to educate everyone about the importance of getting outside.

Benefits of Going Outside

Children experience several benefits from spending time outdoors:

  • Sun exposure (Vitamin D): Being exposed to natural sunlight in small quantities allows our bodies to go through important natural processes. It also aids in bone development, better sleep, and a stronger immune system (Nature Play at Home, 1). 
  • Exercise: From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Children and adolescents ages 6 through 17 years should do 60 minutes (1 hour) or more of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activity each day.” Children tend to be more active when they are outside. Whether they are playing on playground equipment, climbing a tree, or walking a trail, being outdoors tends to allow for more physical activity. 
  • Thinking skills: Spending time in nature has been known to improve critical thinking and problem-solving skills, reduce symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), enhance mood, and develop language (National Wildlife Federation, 2021). 
  • Relationships: Children who spend time outside build stronger friendships, make connections with nature, develop a stronger sense of self, and are more connected to the world around them (National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative, 2012). 
  • Mental health: Spending time outside can decrease anxiety and lower stress levels. I personally experienced this when we first went into “lockdown” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Walking the local trails became a stress reliever for me, and I had never seen so many people walking the trails near my home! Our desire to experience nature connected us during that difficult time. 

These health benefits have been found to affect people of all ages in all demographic areas. Knowing this helps us understand the importance of making outdoor time a family affair rather than an independent experience. 

Outdoor Activity Ideas

Increasing outdoor time can be done by making small changes and taking simple steps. It doesn’t have to cost money, nor does it require you to travel far from home. There are many ways to get outside right where you live:

  • Stop by a local park and explore the trails 
  • Play tic-tac-toe with sticks and stones 
  • Have a picnic lunch in your backyard or local park 
  • Visit a local greenhouse and smell the different flowers 
  • Explore a neighborhood tree and make a leaf or bark print using a piece of aluminum foil 
  • Visit a local farmer's market or berry farm to taste fresh produce and fruit 
  • Wade in the water at a local beach and describe how the ground feels beneath your feet 

My hope is that every child can think back on their childhood and recall positive outdoor experiences. Spending time outside often allows children to have happier and healthier childhoods, and I encourage you to take the time to smell the roses, bask in the morning sun, and dip your toes in a babbling brook. Whatever experience you provide for your child will be time well spent, and many memories will be made.

Summer Camp T Opportunities

This summer, Camp Tuhsmeheta (Camp T) will not be open for in-person events. However, we will continue to offer distance learning opportunities that encourage families to connect with the outdoors and guide campers through different outdoor challenges. Registration will be available soon at mdelio.org/events. Please join us!

References 

Coyle, Kevin. Green Time for Sleep Time: Three ways nature and time improve your child’s sleep. Be Out There: National Wildlife Federation, Sept. 2011. Digital. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021. 

Health Benefits and Tips: Benefits to Mind, Body, and Spirit. National Wildlife Federation, Merrifield, VA. Accessed Feb. 4 2021. 

Infographic: Physical Activity Recommendations [PDF]. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Aug. 2019. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021. 

McCarthy, MD, Claire. Six Reasons Children Need to Play Outside. Harvard Health Publishing Medical School, Harvard University, 27 Oct. 2020. Accessed 8 Feb. 2021. 

Nature Play at Home: A Guide to Boosting Your Child’s Development and Creativity. National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative, 2012. Digital. Accessed 4 Feb. 2021.