Spring has sprung but have your kids noticed?
Many of them are probably still inside glued to their electronic devices and are too busy tweeting to go outside and hear a real tweet. To help parents overcome some of the barriers to outdoor play, National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There movement has created “Outdoor Play for Every Day: A Parent’s Guide for Overcoming Common Obstacles to Kids and Outdoor Play”
According to the federation, outdoor play time makes kids grow lean and strong, enhances imaginations, gives them time to let off steam and just be a kid. Meanwhile, The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that children who are heavy media users are more likely to report getting fair or poor grades compared to other children. But parents face some common challenges when trying to incorporate more green time into their children’s lives including overloaded schedules, the lure of technology, concerns about child safety, lack of good play places and the fear of nature’s unknowns, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
The Be Out There Parent Guide includes tips, activities and information to help overcome these common obstacles so kids can do what comes naturally, playing outdoors.
One of the biggest obstacles — the lure of media — starts early, accelerating and changing as kids progress. In today’s world, technology is childhood’s constant companion. A typical day for school-age kids likely includes early-morning texting from the bus stop, video games and social media after school, television viewing in the evening, listening to music on their smart phones and more texting after lights out. Kids today spend on average more than seven hours each day in front of electronic media, according to the Federation. In contrast, they spend only four to seven minutes per day in unstructured outdoor activities like climbing trees, building forts, playing hide and seek or bike riding.
“The importance of media in today’s world is indisputable, but a sky’s-the-limit approach to technology can have a powerful downside for kids if it’s not tempered with something more down to earth,” said Lindsay Legendre, manager of National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There movement.
National Wildlife Federation’s guide makes these suggestions to maximize outdoor time while making peace with media.
• Monkey See/Monkey Do: Set a good example about limiting tech time and your kids will be more likely to follow suit. Talk to your kids and let everyone have a say on the amount of time that screens will be used each week so it’s clear up front what the ground rules are.
• Pay to Play: Encourage kids to earn screen time by balancing it with equal amounts of reading, chores or playing outside. Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit and father of two, suggests that for every hour of physical activity, kids earn 30 minutes of tech time.
• Let ‘Em Pick: Offer kids a set amount of screen time each day and let them decide how to use it, watch TV, play video games or surf the web. If the weather is nice and they want to trade their screen time for playing outdoors, they can bank their screen time for use on a rainy day.
The Parent Guide also gives some ideas for integrating technology into outdoor play:
• Go Geocaching: Take your kids on an outdoor adventure that combines popular GPS technology and a treasure hunt. Don’t have a GPS? There are several smart phone apps that can do the trick. Learn more at www. Rangerricktrails.com
• Picture This: Take photos of nature with your child and make an on-line collage of all the neat things you find.
• Tweeting is for the birds: Scope out local birds or other interesting wildlife in your backyard and log into www.wildlifewatch.org to share your findings with others.
• Play Seek and Find: Have your child research your family’s next outdoor adventure by searching online with www.naturefind.org to learn about local parks, hiking trails and other outdoor recreational spots near where you live. Then head out and enjoy a world of green.
For parents who want their kids to play outside more often to enhance their physical and mental health, but who struggle to overcome some of the common obstacles, the Be Out There Parent Guide can be a valuable resource and will help make outdoor play a part of every day. Best of all, the Guide will help parents teach their kids why it’s called the great outdoors. More great ideas for enjoying outdoor time can be found at www.beoutthere.org