Studies show children spend less than seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play while they spend about seven hours a day in front of a screen. There’s nothing wrong with technology, but a glut of electronic stimulation at the expense of time spent running, playing and exploring in the great outdoors amounts to trouble.
Studies link excessive screen time to childhood obesity, diabetes, attention deficit disorders, depression and nearsightedness. By contrast, time spent in nature has been shown to reduce children’s stress levels, improve their performance on standardized test scores and foster their emotional intelligence.
Knowing that outdoor play is important and having the tools to make a change in your family’s lifestyle are two different things. Luckily, you don’t have to blaze your own trail. The National Wildlife Federation has a helpful guide for parents that helps provide solutions to common challenges like not having enough time or concerns over safety and weather. Here are a few ideas you can begin implementing this summer:
- Start small by encouraging your kids to spend 15 minutes a day playing outside. The NWF recommends building up to at least an hour of outdoor fun each day. An impromptu picnic on the lawn, a few rounds of hopscotch, running through the sprinklers—it all counts.
- Develop a family policy to limit excessive screen time. Some parents suggest an equation of equal time for electronic play and outdoor activities. If your kids want to play video games for 30 minutes they must earn this time by playing outside for 30 minutes.
- Make parks, trails, the beach, etc. extensions of your own backyard. Instead of an outing to the mall or movie theatre, research all the great outdoor entertainment options in your community.
- Go stargazing. Too hot to play outside during the day? Spend some time outdoors at night. Check out these resources and guidance on studying the moon, stars, and other celestial sights. If you want to head out to a stargazing event, here’s an app for your mobile phone from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for finding one near you.
- Camp in your own backyard. Re-create a camping experience at home by pitching the tent just outside your back door. Light up the fire-pit (if it's safe) and sing Cum bi ya--your kids will love "roughing it" and you can retire to air conditioned comfort if things get a little too rustic.
Photo from parenting.com's article on backyard camping
Contributed by Danyelle, Fairmont Private Schools