Kids Are Going Outdoors? National Survey Reveals Surprising Information about Children's Time Outdoors

By Cordell, Ken; Green, Gary | Parks & Recreation, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Kids Are Going Outdoors? National Survey Reveals Surprising Information about Children's Time Outdoors


Cordell, Ken, Green, Gary, Parks & Recreation


In the past decade, there has been much discussion about the amount of time children spend outdoors. News releases highlighting declining youth participation in outdoor recreation have also contributed to growing concerns over nature-deficit disorder--catalyzing a movement to reconnect kids and nature. However, a recent U. S. Forest Service study is beginning to challenge many common assumptions about what children are or are not doing outdoors. Results of this National Kids Survey, which is the first national attempt to systematically baseline children's outdoor time, suggest that the alleged absence of kids' in the out-of-doors may be somewhat overstated.

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Initiated in 2007, this ongoing telephone survey targets a diverse sample of approximately 2,000 U.S households with kids between 6 and 19. Adults age 20 and older answer for young children (ages 6-15) in the house. Teenagers between ages 16 and 19 are interviewed directly. Questions address a variety of topics including time children spend outdoors, common outdoor activities, and reasons for not spending time outdoors.

Results reveal that, in general, about 63 percent of all children are spending at least two hours outdoors daily. As well, over the four years this survey has been running, kids outdoor participation rates have shown no sign of decreasing. Indeed, 85 percent of children report spending either the same amount or more time outdoors this year, compared to last year. A majority of children (more than 80 percent) participate in some form of unstructured outdoor play, while 50 percent participate in structured activities such as organized sports. Furthermore, males, younger children, and Hispanics report spending more time outside than other demographic groups.

Although these results represent an encouraging sign that kids remain passionate about outdoor activities, other numbers suggest there is still room for improvement. For instance, children participate in outdoor nature-based recreation such as fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing less frequently than in many other outdoor activities. Concern regarding nature-deficit disorder seems warranted. A far more popular modern pastime appears to be using electronic media outdoors, an activity reported for 65 percent of respondents. Not surprising, kids' fascination with technological devices can be a deterrent to participation in outdoor activities (for example, the National Kids Survey shows that watching TV/ movies, playing video games, surfing the internet, and texting are among the most commonly cited reasons for not spending more time outside). On the other hand, effective integration of the use of electronic media in outdoor settings may have the potential to draw more children outside-ultimately enhancing the potential for kids to bond with the natural environment. …

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