Children’s Time Outdoors: Results and Implications of the National Kids Survey


  • Lincoln R. Larson
  • Gary T. Green
  • H. K. Cordell


Children, leisure time, National Kids Survey, nature-deficit disorder, outdoor recreation, technology


A growing body of literature suggests that children today are spending less time outdoors than their predecessors. This assertion, however, is confounded by the absence of a baseline for detecting trends in children’s activities and time spent outdoors. The U.S.D.A. Forest Service initiated the National Kids Survey to address this problem. This general population random digit dialing telephone survey reached 1,450 U.S. households with children from 2007-2009. A proxy household member (e.g. parent or guardian) age 20 or older spoke for children between the ages 6 and 15. Teens between ages 16 and 19 were interviewed directly. Participants were asked about a variety of topics including time children spend outdoors, common outdoor activities, and reasons for not spending time outdoors. Data showed that, in general, most children (> 62.5%) spent at least two hours outdoors daily. Results also indicated that children spent either more time (39.5%) or about the same amount of time (44.8%) outdoors this year as they did last year. Males, younger children, and Hispanics spent more time outside than other demographic groups. Playing or simply hanging out was the most common outdoor activity (84.0% of respondents). Other common activities included biking, jogging, or running (79.9%) and using electronic media outdoors (65.3%). Children participated in outdoor nature-based activities less frequently than many alternatives. Interest in other activities such as listening to music, art, or reading (57.0%), watching TV, DVDs, or playing video games (48.1%), and using electronic media including internet and texting (47.8%) were the most common reasons for not spending time outside. African American and Hispanic respondents cited more reasons for not going outside than other racial/ethnic groups. Comparisons using contingency coefficients showed that children’s outdoor time on weekdays, weekend days, and time spent outdoors relative to last year were strongly correlated with the amount of time their parents/guardians were spending outdoors. Results suggest that, contrary to popular beliefs, many children today are spending a substantial amount of time outdoors. However, the nature of children’s outdoor time may be changing. For example, playing or hanging out, physical activities, and technology-centered activities are more popular than nature-based activities. Electronic media consumption and parental involvement in outdoor recreation activities seem to be important factors influencing children’s time outdoors. Future research efforts should continue to monitor these trends and measure the frequency and type of children’s outdoor activities across diverse recreation settings. To remain relevant in the lives of American youth, park and recreation professionals could use instruments such as the National Kids Survey to adapt current services and develop





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