Kids, on average, don’t play outside as much as their parents did. Children spend more than six hours every day on screens, from televisions to tablets. Even school settings offer more screen learning than even a decade ago. All of that technology has its place and purpose, but as a partner of the Together Counts™ program for active, healthy living, we recognize that without opportunities to get outside children face issues like obesity, inability to focus, and even depression.
Taking a PE class outside accomplishes two things: student exposure to fresh air and sunshine, and a connection to nature through exercise. Both can combat that six-hour screen time statistic and impart skills that encourage healthier lifestyles in children.
Here are five of the major reasons you should take your PE classes outside whenever possible:
- Improved Mood
Kids, by nature, don’t belong indoors all day long. Studies have found that exercise that happens outside incites greater feelings of rejuvenation and energy. Getting outdoors is refreshing, especially since only 10% of children say they spend time outside each day. Vitamin D3 absorption releases feel-good endorphin hormones, boosting mood and elevating brain health. In fact, 90% of kids who spend time outside say it relieves stress. Having the release that goes along with all of that running, jumping, and enjoying the outdoors improves behavior and outlook for the rest of the day, and beyond.
- More Activity
There is evidence that exercise that happens outside is physically better. In other words, doing the same activities inside and out can have very different results. A study that looked at runners who used a treadmill inside versus those who ran the same distance outside found that the outdoor runners used more energy to account for things like wind direction and uneven terrain. The elements outdoors make working out harder. Students in a PE class that meets outside will burn more calories and work harder than those in a class that lasts the same amount of time inside.
- Greater Enjoyment
When kids can associate their exercise routine with something else they enjoy – like going outside – there is a better chance they will want to repeat the activity. A PE class that happens outdoors has the added perk of getting outside the school walls, which is a task that is normally reserved for recess. Teaching kids the connection between physical health and enjoying nature has the potential to increase their motivation for fitness activities for life.
- Heighten Environmental Awareness
A PE class that happens outside offers opportunities for cross-discipline learning. The Nature Conservancy reports that children who spend time outside are more connected to and invested in the planet. Even if the only time students spend outdoors is less than an hour in your class every week, this time matters from an environmental standpoint.
- Opportunities for Creativity
When adults walk into a gym, the equipment is already prescribed. The treadmills are in one spot, the free weights in another and the exercise classes in a designated room. The same is true for a PE class that is held inside. The equipment may change based on class but there is less room for kids to create their own fitness routines. Going outside frees the creative process to work in bigger ways and removes the limits from what kids can accomplish during the learning process. Try to offer a mix of instructional activities and some exercise that allows kids to make decisions. This builds greater ownership of fitness for the students who find their own path to enjoying it.
Creating an outdoor PE lesson plan combines fresh air and fitness in a way that kids will embrace. The allure of a class outside is a luxury for many students and PE is the perfect area to accommodate it.
SPARK is a research-based organization that provides award-winning, evidence-based programs for Physical Education (K-12), After School, Early Childhood, and Coordinated School Health and is a member of the Together Counts Program™. Since 1989, SPARK has provided curriculum, training, and consultation to over 100,000 teachers and youth leaders worldwide. Visit www.sparkpe.org to download sample lesson plans, find grant opportunities, and register for free educational webinars and monthly eNewsletters.
For more healthy school ideas, take a look at these other posts from Together Counts!