How important is it for kids to spend some time outside every day? Any research on this? Is it because it means that otherwise kids are sitting watching TV or doing something else that’s passive? Or is there actually value in just being outside?
I promise you that somewhere there is research showing that kids who spend more time outside are healthier, and probably that they do better on cognitive tests. Equally, I promise you that that research is flawed and mostly driven by other differences across families. If there is anything remotely close to a causal relationship in here, it’s virtually certain to be about being outside being linked with exercise rather than passivity. Put differently: watching TV outside is very likely to be worse for your fitness than running a marathon inside. It’s not the venue; it’s the activity.
One interesting caveat about this is that there are various psychological studies about the benefits to being outside in particular venues. Research finds that walking in nature improves mood and health measures (this is the so-called forest bathing). There’s other work on the mood value of outdoor light exposure, and we know that in locations with limited winter light, depression is an issue.
So … is it important for your kids to be outside? If it is, it’s probably not because science says it optimizes their outcomes. But it might improve their mood. Personally, my view is that my children must go outside every day pretty much no matter what, even for just a few minutes. This is hardest when it is very cold, which is why I spend significant time curating my backyard ice rink. But that’s a story for another day.