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We Need to Get Our Kids Outside

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KIDS PLAYING OUTSIDE
Cathy Yeulet via Getty Images
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Summer, where did you go? It seems like I blinked and all of a sudden your alarm clock free mornings, warm beach days, and carefree weekends were instantly gone.

Now, it's the third week of the back-to-school rush and my kids and I miss you more than ever. From climbing trees to slouching over desks -- the transition from summer sovereignty to school routines hasn't been all that easy in my household. So, the big question I have is -- how can we strike a balance between school routines and spending time outdoors?

Even though back-to-school can make your family back-to-busy, it is important to ensure our children don't disconnect from one of the most important classrooms of all -- the outdoors. When I was a kid, one of my favourite educators was Mother Nature; I climbed trees, played in the dirt, and lifted rocks to discover the "newest" animal species. I was often free to explore, free to run, and free to follow my own guidelines. My parents encouraged me to get outside and play and I feel this reinforcement helped me develop mentally, physically and emotionally. There is nothing like being perched in a tree or soaring carelessly through fields of grass; you almost believe you're a superhero.

Unfortunately, in today's day and age, how many children are playing outside? How many parents are encouraging daily outdoor play?

Children today spend less time outdoors than any other generation in history. A research study surveyed eight hundred and thirty mothers nationwide regarding their active, outdoor play experiences as children, as well as their own children's play experiences today. The study suggests that, when the mother's play experiences are compared with their child's, the results clearly indicate that children today spend considerably less time playing outdoors than their mother's did as kids. The study reveals several reasons for this decline, such as dependence on television and digital media and parental concerns about crime and safety. I can hear the "helicopters" hovering overhead...

But, it is not just a problem parents should be concerned about. This has to include teachers and educational administrators too! In some countries, children spend over 1,000 hours in the classroom. Doesn't that seem like an awful long time to sit in a desk or "crisscrossed apple sauced" on a classroom carpet? Not to mention the fact that some schools have scaled back recess times because of instructional pressures and the demands to squeeze as much academia into the school day. However, research provides plenty of evidence that recess benefits children's cognitive, social-emotional, and gross-motor skills. It's an interesting parallel as more and more children are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders and ADHD.

Let's face it -- children are not moving around enough, playing enough, and getting outside enough. It is no wonder children have a hard time sitting still or not fidgeting on the carpet; they need hours of play outdoors to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level learning in the classroom. The message is clear -- our kids need nature to help them reduce stress and live happier, healthier and more motivated lives. So, how can we - parents, educators, grandparents and caregivers -- help our children get back outside?

We can bring back the same feeling we once felt as kids -- let your children soar, explore and play like a superhero. Don't know where to start? The David Suzuki Foundation created the "Back to School Superhero Challenge," which is providing parents and educators with the materials they need to help their kids get back outside and make a difference in their environment. The four-week challenge encourages kids and adults-alike explore the outdoors and learn about imperative environmental issues. By completing these challenges, you and your child can learn how they are interconnected with the environment and make a "super" eco-friendly difference in your community.

If you teach your kids the importance of protecting and preserving our natural environment now, they will be more equipped to help save our environment while improving their own physical and mental health.

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