Children and the Great Outdoors

Our children are missing time in the great outdoors where you get to soak up the sunshine and breathe in the fresh air

By Deborah Dittner

Today’s children are in front of a computer screen at school and then return home to similar screen time until called to come for dinner and then bedtime

How have your children been doing this winter? Hopefully well and looking forward to spring which is right around the corner.

Until those spring breezes begin and the shorts come out of winter storage, let’s take a look at how nature can help with those wintertime blues and why you need to get the children outside no matter what the weather may be.

Back in the day, children would come home from school, grab a snack and then head outdoors until they are called in for supper.

Sadly, today’s children (and adults) are in front of a computer screen at school (and work) and then return home to similar screen time until called to come for dinner and then bedtime.

Everyone, children and adults, are missing time in the great outdoors where you get to soak up the sunshine and breathe in the fresh air.

Instead, you are in artificial light and breathing in stale air. Now — which sounds better to you? I’ll take the outdoors in nature anytime.

And what becomes of these children who spend hours on end in front of a computer screen receiving little movement or stimulation from the great outdoors?

Many preventable conditions are developing such as obesity, mental health issues such as anxiety and mood issues, decreased immunity and poor sleep. Spending time in nature and being physically active has been shown to improve such issues.

Getting outdoors especially when the sun is still shining (and it’s staying lighter later every day now) helps to boost the benefits of Vitamin D, supports your circadian rhythm and allows for fresh air to get into your lungs. Once home and after a snack, head out the door for a walk.

Depending on where you live, this walk could be around the block or on a trail in the woods. Adults can join in with the children as this time benefits all and allows for you to connect with your child away from any screens or books. This time allows everyone the opportunity to wind down after a long day and check out the beauty of nature around you.

Once outdoors, you can also enjoy the afternoon snack either at a picnic table or lay out a blanket on the ground. Possibly even bring a card game or board game to play while experiencing the fresh breeze and sun on your face. While on the blanket, lie on your back and check out the figures the clouds may make. A game of “I-spy” can also be a lot of fun.

Is there a playground close by? It’s OK to get a bit dirty while playing in the sandbox or just running to and from each piece of equipment. There is always something for everyone at a playground from swings to slides to monkey bars.

Get creative. Depending on where you live and what can be found outdoors, make a list of objects to hunt for such as wild flowers peeking up through any remaining snow, pine cones, acorns, the garden trowel that was accidentally left out over winter and more. Make a game out of this search and suggest a prize for the child who finds the most.

How about a favorite childhood game? If a sidewalk is available, draw a hopscotch board with colored chalk. Kickball is always good to get the heart rate elevated and your body moving. Some other games to consider are four square and red light green light or duck duck goose.

Farmers markets allow for nutritional education. Some farmers markets may still be indoors while others are venturing outside. Allow the children to pick a fruit or vegetable that they haven’t had before to give the family a try of something new.

It is time to start preparing the garden soil once the snow has melted. You may want to start some seeds indoors in preparation for the first planting such as tomato and cucumber. Also, once the ground is warm enough, planting carrots and beets can go directly into the ground. Be cautious of weather as frosts can still occur and may need a warming blanket on some nights. Herbs can also be started indoors only to head outside as the weather permits. Once planted, tending to the garden over the summer time and then finally harvesting the goods come fall provides the experience of gardening and satisfaction of the time and effort involved. Giving thanks to the earth and sun and care provided teaches the wonders of gratitude.

It’s more than time to get outside and enjoy what Mother Nature has to offer whether it be winter, spring, summer or fall. You all need the fresh air, sunshine on your face and showing gratitude for the wonders provided.

Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes.