engrossed by the computer

If we are all so aware of the dominance of the internet and the benefits of getting kids offline and outside, why are so many falling down the digital rabbit hole?

The Importance of Nurturing Outdoor-Minded Children

When’s the last time you sent a text to your child when they were just upstairs? Or even in the next room? We all write the occasional text to ask the kids if they’d like pineapple on their pizza or to say dinner’s ready – don’t we? Please bring your dirty washing down with you. Have you taken the dog for a walk? How are you getting on with your history research? Can you ask your dad why he isn’t answering any of my texts? And so on. Guess it’s not as ‘occasional’ as we’d all like to think.

Getting kids outdoorsLet’s face it; modernity is glued to its collective mobile phone. We’ve all read the studies linking screen-time to obesity, depression, anxiety and difficult behavior; yet we can’t stop ourselves from checking Facebook.

If we are all so aware of the dominance of the internet and the benefits of getting kids offline and outside, why are so many falling down the digital rabbit hole? More importantly, what can we do about it?


Outdoor Education and Activity Centers

Kingswood could be one answer. With everything from abseiling to zip wire, even the most hardened virtual devotee couldn’t fail to be tempted. These outdoor education and activity centers promise to equip “children with valuable social skills for their future” – broadening their horizons to new opportunities and non-academic ways of learning. “[This] increases children’s appetite for learning, raising standards of pupil attainment.”

Plus, they offer Wii Magic as a ‘Twilight Zone Activity,’ for kids who fear they might actually risk death-by-sensory-deprivation after too long on the Jungle Vines.

Getting kids outside In a key research report, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) noted, “There is strong very evidence that being outdoors is the most powerful correlate of physical activity,” adding that “nature is a major motivating factor… in increasing physical activity levels.” It’s not exactly rocket science. And whilst places such as Kingswood can open children’s eyes to the possibilities of natural fun, it needn’t always be that structured.

What would happen if you simply suggested going for a walk with your children? Kicking a ball around the park? Perhaps making a day of it and going to the seaside? Even the sulkiest, most parent-hating teens and ardent World of Warcraft gamers might be enticed by the promise of a harbor-side ice cream. They might not, but it’s worth a shot.

If you think back to your own childhoods, how much of your history is natural? Like a patchwork quilt of pine cones, mine is made up of memories that were all harvested outside. I’m lucky because I had a pretty idyllic upbringing, where fields and rivers and herds of cattle were regular features. I remember falling out of a tree when I was eight years old and spending the day strapped to a board in hospital. I remember building a fort in a pinewood forest and proudly eating a packed lunch inside it.  I remember going to “the Dam” with my brother and sister and piling rocks across a stream. We’d catch crayfishes and avoid the big black horse that lurked in the field nearby. It was exciting and we were free and most importantly, we were safe. We listened out for a certain bird that only called at dusk and then we knew it was time to go home. It was as simple as that.

kids playing in a stream I never want to deprive my children of those experiences and yet the reality is, if we’re not careful, their memories will all be virtual. The National Wildlife Association has excellent tips for encouraging outdoor play, from getting “kids to earn screen time” to “balancing [the internet] with equal amounts of reading, chores or physical activity.” Len Saunders, author of Keeping Kids Fit and father of two, suggests that for every hour of outdoors activity, “kids earn 30 minutes of tech time.”

In the 21st century, it’s a sad reality that more children can identify a Dalek than an owl. According to another recent survey, a vast majority of kids only play indoors. As such, many more children are admitted to A&E for falling out of bed than a tree and the consequences of this problem are very real. Children & Nature, an organisation that is working to reconnect children with nature, indicate that depriving a child of free play in the natural world – of a “free-range childhood,” – can have a major impact on their mental, psychological and physical well-being.

In essence, children need to experience the freedom of nature. They need to make their own adventures and mistakes. They need to get chased by a herd of cows and swim in a flooded field and dance around a fire at the end of the garden. These activities, although trivial to an adult mind, are extremely important to a child’s healthy development and should be an absolute priority for all parents.

Getting kids outdoors

Picture Attributes:
Girl on computer
Boy in mud: courtesy of the author
Children playing with leaves: courtesy of the author
Children in stream
Boy with butterfly

About The Author

Emily Buchanan

Emily Buchanan is a writer and editor living in Norwich with a passion for pine forest forts. Follow her on Twitter.