Get ’em Outside!

[ 6 ] March 19, 2009 |

I welcome Jeanine Silversmith, of Rhode Island Families in Nature, as a new contributing writer for Kidoinfo. She will share ideas on how to make nature part of our families’ everyday life.

boys-in-natureBy Jeanine Silversmith

There’s a free, quick, and easy way to help our children (and ourselves) become happier, healthier, and smarter, and it’s right in our own backyards! Actually, it is our backyards (or nearby park). Seriously, just take your kids outside each day for some unstructured play and interaction with the natural world, and they will reap amazing benefits.

Research shows that time spent in nature is important for healthy development in children and it contributes to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of both children and adults. I’m a real stickler for sample sizes, p values, standard deviations, and a whole bunch of other geeky terms related to data collection and trust me, there’s some pretty compelling evidence on this topic out there. In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv directly connects the lack of nature in our children’s lives to the rising rates of obesity, attention disorders, depression, and more. He even coined a new term: nature deficit disorder. And beyond the data, kids enjoy playing–outside is a great place for children to explore and discover.

Okay, if you’re convinced that you want to spend more time outside with your kids, how do you actually do it? Which activities fit the “unstructured play and interaction with the natural world” bill, and how do we engage our children in them? (Sorry, folks. Organized sports, although they have significant merit, are, by definition, structured. So let’s move on…)

Here are some “unstructured” suggestions: Follow your kids around. Look at what they look at. Ask simple questions like, “What do you think that is?” and “I wonder what it smells like.” Look under rocks for critters. Climb a tree. Play hide-and-go-seek. Take a walk around your neighborhood and try to find as many green (or red or blue) things as you can. Jump in puddles after, or better yet, during a rain. Listen for birds. Try to catch falling leaves (and try not to laugh yourself silly). My three-year-old daughter often spends no less than twenty minutes climbing the rock in our front yard and jumping off, just to climb it again. The best part is that my one-year-old son is just as happy simply watching her.

With spring officially starting on Friday, March 20, perhaps you’ll be as inspired as I am to get ’em outside a little more often. I am constantly amazed and overjoyed at how our time in nature raises my little ones’ spirits, increases their appetite for healthy foods, improves their sleep, and significantly reduces the crankiness factor. And, to tell you the truth, it works the same magic on me too!

For more information on the nature—human health connection and to locate resources to help you fight nature deficit disorder, visit:

Children & Nature Network

Green Hour

Landscape and Human Health Laboratory

No Child Left Inside

Jeanine Silversmith is a self-described tree hugging, science and math geek whose love of nature, coupled with her absolute certainty that people, especially children, are happier, healthier, and wiser when they regularly spend time in nature, led her to establish Rhode Island Families in Nature.  She loves to run, garden, bake, hike, and go camping, especially when accompanied by her husband, Ian, her three-year-old daughter, Sierra, and her one-year-old son, Devin. They live in Warwick.

Photo Credit; Douglas Itkin. Boys in Maine

Category: activities: outdoor, nature/science


Jeanine Silversmith

about the author ()

Jeanine is a self-described tree hugging, science and math geek whose love of nature, coupled with her absolute certainty that people, especially children, are happier, healthier, and wiser when they regularly spend time in nature, led her to establish Rhode Island Families in Nature. Jeanine also works for the RI Environmental Education Association, supporting formal and informal teachers as they create "place-based" curriculum. She loves to hike, run, garden, bake, and go camping, especially when accompanied by her husband, Ian, her daughter, Sierra, and her son, Devin. They live in Wakefield.

Comments (6)

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  1. Hannah Marcotti Hannah says:

    I just bought the book, I Love Dirt, and am so excited for it! I used to live outside as a kid and remember most of my childhood in terms of being outdoors. Thank you for inspiring us to get out today and play!

  2. Martha says:

    I’m looking for a weekly community volunteer opportunity that would be a good fit for me and my 4yo. Any ideas?

  3. Anisa Raoof Anisa says:

    You can search the Volunteer Center of Rhode Island website. They list many opportunities.
    http://volunteer.united-e-way.org/vcri/volunteer/

    I believe you can volunteer at Providence Children’s Museum as well.

  4. calendar Kate says:

    I love I LOVE DIRT too– that’s a good one

  5. Laura says:

    A woman after my own heart! Great ideas. Last Child In The Woods should be required reading for everyone! I agree with Hannah and Kate – I Love Dirt is a fantastic little book, crammed with great ideas.

  6. Katy Killilea Katy says:

    RI Families in nature is a great group–I’m really glad it exists. Thanks, Jeanine!

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