‘Be Out There’ This Summer For Healthier Children

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by Michele S. Byers, executive director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

Each spring, many of us have a case of cabin fever from a long “winter of discontent. “ After being cooped up indoors for months, it’s time to get outside!

As it turns out, cabin fever is entirely natural, and here are some ways to take advantage of that natural impulse, especially in children.

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The average child today spends only four to seven minutes outdoors each day, while logging more than seven hours in front of electronic media like TV, video games and computers. The National Wildlife Federation recently launched the “Be Out There” campaign to educate parents and children on why getting outdoors is so important.

What good comes from being outdoors?  According to the Be Out There campaign, there are many important benefits:

  1. Stronger bones and lower cancer risk: Exposure to the sun prevents Vitamin D deficiency (just don’t overdo it);
  2. Trimmer and healthier kids: Just one daily hour of outdoor play helps ward off childhood obesity and diabetes;
  3. Improved eyesight: Eyes that focus on the wide world, not just the close-up screen, have less nearsightedness and need for eyeglasses;
  4. Less depression and hyperactivity: Natural settings, even tree-lined streets, are soothing for kids;
  5. Longer attention spans: Choppy TV shows and video games all produce less patience and shorter attention spans;
  6. Better at making friends: Children who play together outdoors learn to deal directly with one another and improve their “people” skills;
  7. More creative: Unstructured outdoor play fosters creativity and use of imagination;
  8. Less “acting out” at home and school: Getting kids away from TV and video games helps them see that aggression doesn’t always solve problems in the real world;
  9. Measurably better grades in school: A healthy body and mind produces better results in school;
  10. A longer lifespan and healthier adult life: Doctors estimate that sedentary and obese kids lose three to five years from their life expectancy.

Wow!  Who wouldn’t want all that for their children?

The “Be Out There” campaign is based on 14 scientific studies, including studies from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics.  The full list, with links to the studies, is available at the National Wildlife Federation website.

The benefits of outdoor activity are clear enough that there are a growing number of “forest kindergartens” opening in the United States.  This model, adopted from Europe, brings the entire classroom into nature, full time!

Open your own outdoor “school” this summer by adopting regular outdoor play as part of your child’s routine.  The Be Out There Campaign includes an online pledge for kids, as well as lots of ideas for parents on how to encourage natural learning in the outdoors.

Activities include everything from backyard scavenger hunts to nature photography; from backyard campouts to games of flashlight tag; or from making a hummingbird feeder to whipping up a batch of ants on a log.  You can find the full list, related resource pages and more at www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Activities.aspx.

So the next time your kids are glued to the computer or TV screen, send them outside to play!

And I hope you will consult New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org, if you would like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources.


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