Unplug the Phone and Plug in the Wilderness

by Taylor H.

I want you to think back to when you were a kid. What did you do for fun? Where did you play? Where were your parents while you were playing? If your childhood was anything like mine, it was similar to this – as a child I, would play outside until the street lights turned on, playing in the woods making forts, or running up to my neighbor’s house to play in our pretend kitchen making mud cakes. Parents were not glued to our hips while we were playing; they simply wanted us to be back in time for dinner.

So, what happened to the sense of wonder and imaginations kids these days seem to have lost?

First, we need to understand why youth are no longer participating in leisure and recreational activities that take place outside. It should be no surprise when I say kids now spend an average of seven hours a day plugged in to a device (Salo, 2009, p. 28). Kids are so concentrated with being involved in these non-active activities that they seem to be losing interest in all outside play. Only 40% of children between the ages of 2-11 and 8% of adolescents between the ages of 12-17 achieve the proper amount of 60 minutes a day of physical activity (Blanton, 2013, p. 325).

Right now, on your desk or in your pocket, you hold a little device that allows you to “stay up to date” with the latest news of your friends, family, celebrities. Basically, you can receive news from anywhere in the world. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that can influence anyone. Another reason youth are no longer participating in the environment is because of the effects social media has on the society. Society has created this image that the outside world is a dangerous area to play. Parents now see the only safe place for their children to play and be active is inside or at a scheduled event such as a play date or sport event. This provides the parents with the comfort they need knowing that their child is in the presence of an adult. The world of play has turned into a well-structured environment where we set times for play dates and have strict rules that control when and where youth play.

Playing outside has been proven to have amazing benefits for the physical and mental health of a youth. During these developmental stages, it is beneficial for youth to explore and recreate that sense of wonder and imagination. Playing outside allows your body to absorbed vitamin D, it can lower the rate of heart disease, osteoporosis, MS and some cancers, lower the rate of obesity, create positive moods, lower anxiety, stress, and depression as well as create a better developed focus (Klasky, 2014). Its been said that youth that are involved in Forest schools, or school that provided natural playgrounds that are surrounded by flowers and trees are more likely to develop a sense of care for mother nature (Johnstone, 2017). In this positive environment children are challenged with understanding concepts such as where their fruits and vegetables come from, instead of just assuming they come from the store. They learn how delicate and time consuming it is to grow a tomato from a seed. When children are confronted with these new learning experiences, they are more likely to enjoy eating fruits and vegetables and develop a sense of respect for nature. Children that are more hands on with the environment tend to grow an interest in the field of science. This can provide them with a sense of purpose and a way to see their future.

Kindergartens Forest School. Where children can play while also learning valuable academic skills. (Kenny, 2014)

Natural playground where children are provided with the opportunity to play and explore objects in nature. (Kelly, 2014)

Social media is something we will never beat, so we need to learn how to work with it. Schools need to push youth to be active outside by making more field trips in provincial parks, local lakes, nearby trails to help encouraging youth to participate in nature. Make hands-on projects that involve going outside and studying nature. Create day trips or camps that involve learning and exploring the different opportunities involved in the wilderness. Challenge different apps that are available such a Geocaching, TeleStory and Wild Time. We want to try to encourage youth to use what’s offered in their backyards to help them develop to their fullest potential.


Blanton, Jedediah. (2013). The Feasibility of Using Nature-Based Settings for Physical Activity Programming: Views from Urban Youth and Program Providers. American Journal of Health Education, 44(6), pp. 324-334

Johnstone, Lori. (2017). Health and Wellness 2. RSS 4083

Klasky, Ben. (2014). Get hooked on nature. TedxTalks, Retrieved from

Kelly (2014). Nature Inspired Playgrounds. Be a fun mom, Retrieved from http://www.beafunmum.com/2014/09/nature-inspired-playgrounds/

Kenny, Erin. (2014). Flow Learning in a Forest Kindergarten. Natural Start Alliance, Retrieved from http://naturalstart.org/feature-stories/flow-learning-forest-kindergarten

Salo, Jennifer. (2009). Screen time replacing physical activity time. Physical & Health Education Journal, 74(4), pp. 28-29








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4 Responses to Unplug the Phone and Plug in the Wilderness

  1. I agree with Taylor that the promotion of outside play is definitely lacking in today’s society. I notice as I walk by my elementary school, the park that was once filled with laughing children running around is now abandoned. Parks are being torn down in the area to be replaced with parking lots and children sit inside glued to their tablets. I first began to notice the difference between my generation and the next when I started babysitting. I had planned all of these fun activities to do such as capture the flag and scavenger hunts; however, I could barely get the two children off of the couch let alone out the door into the backyard. The five year old knew more then me about mine craft, YouTube and other apps on his iPod. The best part about having a sibling for me was the make believe games we could create together; yet these two children had not said one word to each other for the past thirty minutes I had been watching them, absorbed in the realm of technology.

    Kemple, Oh, Kenney and Smith-Bonahue state, “Recess, that time at school when children are typically permitted to play outdoors, has diminished or been eliminated in many schools in the United States. While U.S. children today spend more than 7 hours a day in front of electronic media they spend only an average of 4 to 7 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play (p.447, 2016). Childhood development benefits significantly from outdoor play including: improved self-control, greater focus and attention as well as more opportunities for exploration (Kemple et al., 2016). Technology is going to continue to be part of our every day lives; however, we need to remind ourselves of the importance of moderation and balance and ensure children are still given the opportunities to play outside.

    Cailie M

    References: Kemple, K. M., Oh, J., Kenney, E., & Smith-Bonahue, T. (2016). The Power of Outdoor Play and Play in Natural Environments. Childhood Education, 92(6), 446-454. doi:10.1080/00094056.2016.1251793

  2. Victoria Starratt says:

    Great post! I completely agree with the point you have made here! Outdoor experiences and learning about our environment has a positive impact on youth development. This blog post reminded me of the concept of community gardens and the value of teaching youth where our food comes from. Community gardens teach youth the benefits of healthy eating while incorporating principles of environmental stability. Youth who are more ‘in tune’ with the environment and the food they are eating are more likely to have a sense of purpose. Whether this sense of purpose is within their community or even on the larger scale. The benefits of out door play definitely outweigh the cons. You really made some great points here!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Taylor! First I would like to say how much I love the title of your blogpost and the ted talk you have linked into your post. I am in complete agreement with many of the points you have made in your post. When I was little my brother and I spent the majority of our weekends and afternoons after school outside playing unsupervised. We would bike between our parent’s house and our grandparent’s house to play in the raspberry patch and the woods. I am a strong believer in the principle that children need to spend a large portion of their childhood outside in order to develop an appreciation for the environment and natural beauty they cannot find on screens.

    Something that you briefly mentioned was the fact that children who play outside are more likely to have a better understanding and appreciation of where food comes from. Personally, I really value nutrition and believe that in order for children to learn about proper nutrition and fresh and whole foods they need to spend time outdoors to see plants, vegetables, fruits, and herbs growing. In fact, a study was conducted in 2007 in order to observe the connection between a youth gardening program, sedentary lifestyle, and nutrition choices (Lautenschlager, Smith, 2007). The study showed an increase in fruit and vegetable consumption especially among boys who took part in the gardening program. The Theory of Planned Behaviour was utilized in order to study decision-making behavior in health topics. In fact, there have been numerous studies supporting the connection between healthy eating, getting outdoors, and youth gardening programs. While this may not be an instantaneous fix for the sedentary lifestyle that is currently being led by this generation of youth, gardening programs may be a step in the right direction in order to get youth outside and to encourage them to make healthful nutrition choices.

    Haley M.

    Lautenschlager, L., & Smith, C. (2007). Understanding gardening and dietary habits among youth garden program participants using the Theory of Planned Behavior. Appetite, 49(1), 122-130.

  4. jordanaveryatwin says:

    I just wanted to expand on the forest kindergarten programs in relation to your blog post. I was an education assistant this past year and spent majority of the day with the forest kindergarten class. This program seems very beneficial to the children as a lot of them come from rough environments and don’t get to experience the outdoors in such a nice way. A lot of the children had not seen a campfire in person until we made one for them.
    Of course there seems to be more risk to playing outside but as pointed out in the movie we watched in class, the natural outdoor play area gave the children more opportunities to test their abilities, be that climbing a steep hill or walking along a log. The children learned quickly what they were capable of and steered away from things they found out they couldn’t do yet. This led to less accidents outside because they knew what they could handle.
    I believe it was just a case of there being more room and less structure aloud the kids to do what they wanted leading to less conflicts and fights between the children. They also seemed to listen lot better when we went outside and were more willing to play with others. We always had ten minutes of quiet sitting when we first went outside, and as you all probably know getting kindergarten kids to sit quietly for ten minutes is usually a challenge. Inside I doubt we would be able to get them to sit quiet for that long.
    I just thought the forest kindergarten was an investing program that reflected a lot of the ideals you placed in your blog and felt i should give a little insight. The forest program seems to be beneficial but it is so new there isn’t any evidence or data to show it’s benefits yet although I believe it will in time.
    Jordan M-A

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