Take it outside
Summertime activities for you and your kids
BY KRISTINE HAYWARD
Winnipeg Health Region
Wave, Summer 2009
As a child, I spent a great deal of my time outdoors with friends - either in our front yard, down the block at the local park or in the nearby forests exploring and climbing trees.
With only two TV channels to choose from, it was an easy choice to be outdoors interacting with nature. We didn't have a Nintendo DS, Wii, PS2, or Xbox 360 to compete for our time. We didn't even have a Commodore 64 or an Atari - computer systems that were starting to pop up in homes in the late '70's.
Today, as a mother of two children (two and four years), working full time and living in a technology-rich world, it can be a challenge to find time to get outdoors and share nature with my children. I have to make a point to create those opportunities.
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, understands the issue.
He has coined the phrase "Nature Deficit Disorder," bringing attention to the lack of connection between children and nature. Louv points out that the lack of time spent in nature by many children may result in a number of health and learning issues.
Fortunately, it is possible to reconnect with nature and make the most of summer. Planned family outings and moving your workout outdoors are two ways to make up that deficit.
Nature provides us with a healing environment to explore and play outdoors. Combining physical activity and nature can improve the overall physical, mental and emotional health of your entire family. It is especially important for children and youth - so head outdoors together. Find the closest patch of grass, some trees, a stream and listen to the birds sing while searching for critters. Encourage and support your children to play and explore what nature has to offer. According to Manitoba-Nature Action Collaborative for Children, the benefits of outdoor play are worth it, and include:
- Reduced stress: The more natural the surroundings, the better kids feel.
- Better focus: Kids who interact with nature are less distracted, interrupt less, listen better, and have increased cognitive abilities. Children with attention-deficit disorder have shown improvement in their abilities to focus.
- Improved emotional and social development: Regular opportunities for unstructured play results in better social skills, including getting along with others and being happier.
- Improved fitness levels: Playing outdoors can help with weight management and overall fitness.
There are many ways to enjoy nature's 'interactive' playground. Here are a few ideas:
- Go for a walk in your neighbourhood to search for animals, birds and other critters! Repeat your walk in all seasons.
- Visit one of the many provincial parks across the province. In 2009 and 2010, entrance to parks is free!
- Visit Fort Whyte Alive - Admission is free if you walk or bike. Remember, zero emission = free admission.
- Visit the Assiniboine Park Zoo.
- Picnic in your local park - pack up a healthy lunch and share it in the park.
- Create natural outdoor areas in your community. Plant trees, flowers, a garden or support a community garden.
There is strong evidence to support the idea that time spent in nature has a positive effect on our health, especially in the recovery from stress and attention fatigue. Exposure to nature has a positive effect on mood, concentration, self-discipline and physiological stress. Enjoy being outdoors with your family.
Kristine Hayward is a Coordinator with Winnipeg in motion, which is a partnership of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, the City of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba.
Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.
Read the Summer 2009 issue of Wave