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Theories Relating to Outdoor Play

Updated February 21, 2017

If you're a baby boomer, your childhood was likely spent outdoors, beating a path through the woods, walking to the nearest creek, retreating to a fishing hole, or even riding your bike around the block. The new childhood experience differs dramatically. Children spend more time in the virtual world of computers and video games than the real one, and some experts say that poses serious problems.

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Nature Deficit

Author Richard Louv coined the term ''nature-deficit disorder'' to describe the state of many children today. He decries the modern nature-starved childhood in his book, ''Last Child in the Woods,'' and cautions it could have long-lasting consequences. Louv won the 2008 Audubon Medal for his work.


Louv believes outdoor play in natural environments is vital to healthy social and emotional development in children. It relieves stress and anxiety and helps keep off excess weight. It instils in children an appreciation for the natural world, and that is vital in building a new generation that will safeguard the planet. Natural play sparks the imagination, and it may even help kids learn better, Louv says.


A 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics study linking outdoor recess and better classroom behaviour validated Louv's theory. In the study, researchers compared the behaviour of 8- to 9-year-olds who received daily outdoor recess to those who did not. Teachers assessed the behaviour of participating children.


About 11,000 children--equal numbers of boys and girls--were observed in the study. Teachers found that the children who received a daily recess of 15 minutes or more were better behaved in the classroom than those who did not. Researchers concluded that recess should be a daily part of the school day for children in this age group.

Green Time

Louv encourages a daily ''green hour'' for children. Outdoor play in the natural world, not just on a soccer field, has social and emotional benefits, the author says. He suggests that families garden, camp out under the stars, go fishing, cloud spot, put out a bird bath or feeder, take a hike in the woods, or engage in similar experiences.

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About the Author

Karen Holcomb
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