Summer Outdoor Time

As Oregonians, we are blessed with ample rainfall in the fall-winter-spring months.  Enjoying our warm, temperate summers is a highlight of the year. Hands down, spending unstructured time outdoors is one of the best possible way to use the extra time that our summer break affords.  Offering children fresh air, exercise, and time to just look and be, enjoying one's neighborhood community with time to play on the street, biking, swimming, hiking, camping and the time honored traditions of tree climbing and fort building, nature and the outdoor environment right outside the front door provides endless opportunities for creative play and reflection.  Younger children are often more drawn to exploration while older students are ready for the challenge of planning longer hikes or bike rides.  

Whether staying closer to home or ranging on vacations, using open-ended time to imagine and play can make summertime magical.  Out of the inevitable ‘I’m bored’ comes the creative spark of creating an original game or making a new social connection. Though my children are older now, one of my favorite activities is still to take a walk with a 1-year old who will stop every two feet to examine a rock, a tree, a panel in the fence; such experiences help my hurried adult brain to take notice of these small, wonderful details in the world.

In addition to the pure joy of time outdoors, research tells us that this time is critically important to human development.  There has been a lot of discussion about childhood obesity recently but there are many other reasons to prioritize time outdoors.
Some documented benefits of outdoor and unstructured time for children:
  • Helps children grow lean and strong
  • Enhances observation skills, imagination and attention spans
  • Decreases aggression
  • Improves classroom performance
  • Children who spend time in nature become adults who are better stewards of the environment.
  • 60 minutes of daily, unstructured free play is essential to children’s mental and physical health.
  • Nature alleviates the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits.
  • Children who play together in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
Current numbers about children and time outdoors paint a discouraging picture.  Some facts:
  • Children spend 50% less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.
  • Children ages 8-18 spend an average of 7 to 8 hours per DAY using entertainment media.
  • In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own.
  • Children’s unfounded fears and misconceptions about the natural environment develop when they have very little actual contact with living things and obtain most of their attitudes through the electronic media.
  • Increased vitamin D deficiency in children. 
We are blessed to live in a geographically rich state.  We count temperate forests, high desert, coastal environments, the magnificent Columbia River and Gorge, and majestic waterfalls as just a few of our many jewels.  Closer to home, Forest Park and Tryon Creek State park offer an easy escape from the city and endless trails for walking.  Smith and Bybee Lakes gives a glimpse into wetland habitat and Kelley Point Park an opportunity to see the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.  We’ve all likely experienced the quiet fulfillment of spending a family day on a beach where the only agenda seems to be moving sand and water, skipping rocks or kicking a ball or the fun of sitting around a campfire after a day full of exploring a new environment.

Whether it’s a three-day camping trip or just a 45 minute walk at the end of the day, these activities allow us to slow down, unplug and really be present with one another, recharge our individual and collective spirits, move our bodies, marvel and give thanks for the beautiful lands and oceans we share.  I wish your family a restorative summer break.  

Dawn Cowan, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School