Outside play connects kids to nature, provides a valuable education

Vanessa Brown, 5, plays on a swing at Baranof Elementary School in Sitka

Vanessa Brown, 5, plays on a swing at Baranof Elementary School in Sitka

We live in an outdoor paradise in Southeast Alaska, but our children still sometimes spend too much time indoors with video games, the computer or TV. A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation finds that children ages 8-18 spend an average of 6.5 hours with electronic media per day. In his book Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv writes about how our children not connecting with nature has been linked to growing rates of obesity, attention disorders and depression.

There are many other good reasons to pry our kids away from the TV or computer and get them outside. Not only does getting children outside to play provide them with fresh air and healthy physical activity, being out in nature also sparks a child’s sense of discovery and exploration.

You see this when a child explores a tidal pool. Not only does the child watch a miniature crab scurrying underneath a rock or play with a starfish, the child also learns about how plants such as beach asparagus and seaweed have been part of the traditional diet for centuries. Other great ways to get your kids outside include taking them to your local culture camp, getting them to help you build a family garden or going for a family hike or bike ride.

“Getting outside with your kids fosters spiritual connections to our planet and provides a host of opportunities to move our bodies in healthy, joyful ways,” SEARHC Health Educator Lisa Sadleir-Hart said. “Spending time in nature, especially harvesting local foods, also increases our connection to the source of our food and helps us integrate physical activity in purposeful ways.”

Lisa gives us 10 fun ideas for getting outside with our kids in Southeast Alaska:

  • Pick up trash in your neighborhood with your kids and see how much better it looks.
  • Connect with someone who knows about traditional foods and go with them when they harvest fiddlehead ferns, seaweed, salmonberries or wild celery shoots this spring.
  • Take a nature walk with a bird or plant book and see how many species you can identify.
  • Take an early morning walk to listen to bird sounds.
  • Take a nature walk and look for signs of animal activity.
  • Attend a bear safety talk with your kids so you know what to do if you see a bear when hiking.
  • Take your child to a conservation talk about a special area in your community.
  • Take a beach walk and pick up plastics and other trash on the beach. Don’t forget to check out the tide pools.
  • Create a photo essay with your child by taking photos once a week of a specific plant or special nature area, then discuss the changes you see.
  • Go puddle-stomping.

Story reprinted from the May/June 2010 edition of “HealthBeat,” the patient newsletter for the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC)

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