As a child, I built a wonderful bond with Mother Nature. Whether I was climbing her tall trees or rolling down her grassy hills, nature was always fun, carefree, and supportive of my need for exploration. Although she had her cold spells and rainy days, I considered Mother Nature as my confidant, play-mate, and one of my favourite educators. She taught me how to be curious, how to problem-solve and how to appreciate life’s simple pleasures. With no strict schedules or regimented routines, my parents encouraged my friendship with Mother Nature by telling me to “go outside and play” on a daily basis. Crisp fresh air, warm sunlight, and the vibrance of outdoor life not only invigorated my sense of imagination but also enhanced my growth, development and love for physical activity.
Nowadays, when I look at the empty playgrounds and parks near my house, I can tell a lot has changed since my childhood. Heck, I bet my unstructured youth is unrecognizable in the eyes of most 21st century parents. When you look outside, what do you see? I know what I don’t see: children jumping rope, playing tag or running around in packs until they are summoned home for family dinner. So, where have all the children gone?
My educated guess — they are inside studying, completing extra tutoring sessions, participating in organized sports, watching television or glued to the latest iPad game. David Bond’s film, Project Wild Thing, cites fear, technology, and the commercialization of play as reasons why kids have become so disconnected from the natural world.
ParticipACTION, a nation-wide event, is urging parents to rethink their stance on outdoor play and to motivate their children to become more physically active. Research shows children who receive greater parental support for physical activity are more likely to be active for at least 60 minutes per day. In a nation where 93 per cent of our children are not active enough to meet the Canadian Physical Activity guidelines and 26 per cent are overweight or obese, Mother Nature pleads:
Be a healthy role model. If you show your kids that you find enjoyment in being active, getting outside, and making physical activity a daily routine they will be more likely to mirror these healthy actions. Walking or cycling to work, going on nightly walks or joining a league, can show your kids the importance of maintaining good health and how engaging physical activity can be.
Limit screen time. Video games, cell phones, television, and other tech-innovations are keeping children indoors. If you’re inside all day, you’re less likely to move around and more likely to gain weight. Childhood obesity is on the rise and has no signs of slowing down any time soon. The results of new studies indicate that children’s weight is influenced by whether they have active video games and if there is a television in the bedroom. Although it may be difficult to break out of this routine, efforts to reduce screen time work better when children understand how too much technology is affecting their health. So, talk to your kids and let them ask questions about screen time, in order for them to learn how to get healthier!
Encourage the trial (and error) of new outdoor things. Most kids love playing and being outside. Recently, my middle son wanted to try fishing so we are now trying to find a fishing friend as no on in my family have ever done it before. It will be an adventure for all of us! Encouraging children to try new things is important for their self-esteem and risk-taking skills. Although your child may not like every activity or sport they try, error can help kids discover their identity and enhance their sense of adventure.
It is clear — parental role modelling, limits, guidance, and encouragement is essential for children to establish a love and routine for daily outdoor activity. Since Spring has finally sprung, there is no better time than the present, to restore and encourage balance and friendship with Mother Nature. Let’s tell our children what my parents always told me…GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY!