This is a guest blog courtesy of the U.S Forest Service Southern Research Station.
There have been very few scientific studies on the outdoor activities of children and youth. The few that have been published are relatively small, surveying less than 500 individuals. In 2007, to address an important gap in information about kids and the outdoors, Ken Cordell, pioneering research scientist, and Carter Betz, outdoor recreation planner, both at the Southern Research Station (SRS) Athens, GA, unit, and Gary Green, assistant professor at the University of Georgia (UGA) in Athens, started the National Kids Survey. Lincoln Larson, a Ph.D. candidate at UGA and lead author of the most recent paper evaluating the survey, is also working with SRS researchers.
“The purpose of this ongoing survey is to produce nationwide scientific data on a wide variety of outdoor activities in order to more accurately assess the current state of youth in the outdoors,” says Cordell. “Our intention was to build a national baseline of data about kid’s time and activities outdoors so we could take a more rigorous look at trends.”
Conducted in conjunction with the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, the kids study is a general population, random-digit-dialed household telephone survey. For legal and ethical reasons, a proxy household member 20 years or older–a parent, guardian, grandparent, or older sibling–is interviewed about the activities of children who are between 6 and 15 years old. Teens 16 to 19 years of age are interviewed directly. Data continues to be collected and is analyzed yearly. The sample size as of summer 2011 was 1,450 individuals.
The kids’ survey report is made up of three parts. The first part simply records the amount of time youth spend outside and compares time spent in outdoor activities by age, gender, race, and household income. Part 2 looks at the types of activities children participate in while spending time outside. Part 3 examines reasons why children may not be spending time outdoors.
Results so far show that only about 13 percent of the youth surveyed spend less time outside than they did a year previously, while nearly 40 percent spend more time out-of-doors. About 62 percent spend two or more hours outside on weekdays, 77 percent on weekends. Genderwise, males of all ages are more likely to spend more time outdoors than females, and teens spent less time outdoors than other groups.
The results from the second part of the survey show that passive, close-to-home activities are four of the top five most popular. Activities include playing and just hanging out; biking, jogging, walking, or skateboarding; and listening to music, watching movies, or using electronic devices outdoors. According to the survey, the primary reasons some children and teens don’t spend time outdoors include interest in music and art, more time playing indoor sports, a lack of facilities nearby, and growing use of electronic media. Kids and teens who had computers in their rooms were less likely to spend weekend time outdoors.
For parents, teachers, natural resource managers, policymakers, and others, the question of what kids actually do outside is important.
“Knowing what kids like to do outdoors can help enormously in outreach and outdoor program development,” says Cordell. Children who forge connections to nature benefit mentally and physically, and as adults may be more likely to cherish and protect tomorrow’s forests.