Here's a startling statistic for you...

More than a quarter of U.S. kids have never spent time in a natural area other than their own backyard, or only do so once each year.

That hardly seems possible, particularly when the same study — compiled by The Nature Conservancy — found that 82 percent of parents view spending time in nature as “very important” to their children’s development, second only to reading as a priority. And 83 percent of parents think that spending time outdoors helps their children focus better at school.

So if parents recognize exposure to nature as a critical piece to a child's development, what's keeping all of those kids indoors?

In the U.S., the big culprit is homework, which I would venture to guess is compounded by the myriad of after-school activities that kids are enrolled in each year. After school, scouts, basketball, piano, and homework, there is hardly time for many families to have dinner, let alone go for a walk in the woods. That leaves the weekends, most of which are booked with recitals and practices and more homework.

What can parents do? According to the survey, children are much more likely to be outside with a parent or guardian than a friend, teacher or extended family member.

“Parents are the gatekeepers to nature,” says Stephanie Wear, a scientist with the Nature Conservancy. “They have the power to foster a love of nature in their children – making them happier, healthier and smarter – just by going outside.”

Here's more from the study:

Nature Conservancy study on kids in nature

Related posts on MNN:

Parents worldwide agree: Kids need more time outside
Homework and a discomfort about being outdoors are the 2 reasons cited for why U.S. kids aren't experiencing more nature.