Opportunities abound for outdoor play

Find your inner child with your child by playing and exploring together

I recently read a brochure from the Early Years in the Tri Cities that really resonated with me and spurred my research to develop this article on screen time and playing in nature. It resonated with me because I love the outdoors, have an appreciation for nature and have a love hate relationship with technology. This simple little brochure reminded me how it is so important to limit screen time and get your kids to play outside. As more technological opportunities enter the home, young children including toddlers are choosing to play on the screens rather than play and explore in nature. So as the weather is getting nicer lets remind ourselves why we want our children to pass on the technology and to play in the great outdoors.

Firstly, what consists of screen time? Screen time is considered to be watching television, being on a computer, playing on a tablet or phone and playing video games. 59 % of children under age two watch television for an average of two hours per day. A surprising 30 per cent of children aged zero to three years old have a television in their bedroom. Screen time for children under three years of age is linked to irregular sleep patterns and sleep disturbance in children six to twelve years old. There is growing evidence showing that the more time children engage with screens the harder it is for them to turn them off when they are older, have a harder time socially as they interact less with friends and family and academically they score lower especially in reading. Yes, technology has a place, however, they do not encourage children to discover, play, and imagine; all essential for how children learn.

Almost all children and adults have a natural attraction to being outdoors, exploring, playing, interacting and learning about nature. Being outside and playing outside is vital to a child’s growth, and their physical and mental development. Among a wide range of benefits, outdoor play is fundamental, because it:

• Gives kids a chance to burn off energy

• Can be calming and allow kids to “recharge” and balance their energy levels

• Helps kids learn to interact with and understand the natural world

• Offers a chance for more social interaction with peers

• Helps to develop their observation skills and be able to assess risk

• Offers more opportunities for creativity and free play

• Stimulates curiosity and boosts their confidence as they learn new things

• Helps to build a strong link between physical health and outdoor play

• Builds a respect for nature and the environment

So how can you incorporate more nature into your lives? The first thing you need to do is minimize screen time and choose activities connected with nature. Here are some simple ideas you and your family can do to connect with nature:

Go for a nature walk by exploring local parks, trails, ponds. Have a picnic in the park. Go on a nature scavenger hunt, collect natural items to make a nature collage. Read under a tree. Explore different settings such as lakes, rivers, mountains, ocean, bogs etc. and see different flora and fauna that live there. Climb trees, wade in streams,

Dig in the sand, or lay down where it is comfortable and look for pictures in the clouds.

Children learn from touching, playing and exploring as well as having the face to face social connection and interaction with caring loved ones and friends. So do not just send your child out in the backyard. Go with your child and explore, play and learn together. Allow them to get wet and muddy. They can be washed and their clothes can too. Find your inner child and get muddy with them. You will create such a wonderful memory.

Kim Verigin is the Agassiz-Harrison Early Years co-ordinator