British Columbia

Playing outside can build children's connection to nature, author says

Scott Sampson, Science World CEO and author of 'How to Raise a Wild Child', says kids who don't play outside are emotionally disconnected from nature.

Free play outside makes kids more creative, inventive and better critical thinkers, Scott Sampson says

Kids don't spend as much time outdoors as previous generations did and are losing their connection with nature, says author Scott Sampson. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Encouraging children to play outside isn't just good for them, it's good for the whole planet, according to author Scott Sampson.

Sampson is the CEO and president of Vancouver's Science World and a dinosaur paleontologist. He's written a book about how to encourage kids to get outside called How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature.

Playing outside, he says, is critical for children's development as critical thinkers and creative problem solvers.

Replacing screen time with outdoors time can also help with health.

"Right now, kids — especially younger kids — are suffering from skyrocketing rates of obesity, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, depression, even such conditions as myopia that are caused by this indoor lifestyle that we're leading," he said.

"Getting kids outdoors isn't the panacea. It isn't going to solve it all, but it's a huge part of the solution."

Environmental connection

But Sampson says it's not only the health of individual children that is at stake, it's the environment at large.

"Go ask 100 scientists what is the most pressing issues of the day and you'll hear about climate change and species extinction and habitat destruction. All of those things are true, and we likely can't solve them unless people care about where they live. Why would they care if they don't spend any time outdoors?"     

Sampson acknowledges it can be difficult to convince a kid who is used to playing video games to go outside, especially when they have no experience playing outside.

But his recommendation is simple:  start with yourself.

"The best way to get kids outdoors is to take them there. If you're not going to let your kids run around the neighbourhood all day on a Saturday, start doing something yourself that involves getting outdoors. If you start to value nature, kids will too ... This goes for parents, teachers and all caregivers."

Scott Sampson is the keynote speaker this week at the Children and Nature Network Conference in Vancouver.

Listen to Scott Sampson on CBC's The Early Edition: