Can This Really Be True?

The other day, while we were listening to Science Friday, someone cited a statistic that kids only spend an average of 6 minutes a day outside.  I went, whaaaa?  And BalletBoy actually laughed.  He said, probably about four times, because the more he thought about it, the crazier it seemed, that can’t be right.  It can’t be right.  It can’t be.  Six minutes?  Really?

Well, since BalletBoy’s (and my!) statistics suspicion was raised, I went to look it up and found a couple of studies.  In this one from 2003, the average time on “outdoor activities” was 50 minutes a week, so that’s a similar statistic.  But this one from 2009 found that the majority of kids spend a lot more time outside than that.  More than three fourths of the kids on that survey spent two hours or more outside on most weekend days and more than half spent two hours or more on most weekdays.

I'm always grateful for Rock Creek Park.  It's a wonderful oasis of nature in the middle of our fair city.
I’m always grateful for Rock Creek Park. It’s a wonderful oasis of nature in the middle of our fair city.

As I read more, I saw that some of the studies that counted such a low level of outdoor activity were only counting some number of designated outdoor activities.  So, presumably, running around in circles in the backyard wouldn’t count as an outdoor activity, and nor would collecting rocks by the river, playing pretend in a field, or chasing each other around a friend’s house with Nerf swords.  If your kids are like mine, those alone would knock out hours of weekly outside time from consideration.  This reminds me a little bit of the reading study from a few years ago that decried how little people read these days.  But then it turned out that newspapers, magazines, and even nonfiction books, regardless of literary quality or purpose of reading, weren’t considered in the survey.  Only fiction was considered.  This is not to say that reading or outside time aren’t declining, just that it’s not quite as dire as all that.

Looking up things like this is interesting.  BalletBoy looked very pleased that he was right that the statistic was suspicious.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be true or not.  On the one hand, how depressing to think that only an average of six minutes is spent outside most days for children!  Assuming that time to transfer from place to place wasn’t counted (how could it have been with a number like that?) it would imply that the majority of kids have no recess, don’t play outdoor sports, don’t go into nature, and don’t ever play on playgrounds.  On the other hand, sometimes I worry that the kids and I don’t spend enough time outside and that would have certainly skewed my view of things in our favor.

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