By Hilary Smith
(Editor’s Note: This blog was written especially for the Humanity Project by Hilary Smith, who writes about the challenges of parenting in the digital age. She is the mother of two children, ages 5 and 10, and lives in Chicago.)
Gone are the days of being sent outside to play in the morning and staying outdoors exploring with friends until dinner time. School recesses have been greatly minimized or eliminated completely. Child obesity rates are through the roof, with interpersonal and communication skills on the decline. Too often children are glued to the TV, mesmerized by their iPads or tuned out with a multitude of other electronic devices. While technology provides today’s children with many benefits and learning advantages, it also can pose some hindrances to their overall development as well-rounded individuals if it consumes too much of their time and attention. But parents can find a perfect blend of technology and outdoor play by using the “everything in moderation” concept.
Playing outside and exploring nature have been proven to reap many benefits for children. The most obvious of these is the positive impact on physical development. Running, jumping, swinging and all other kinds of outdoor physical play help develop motor skills, improve balance and coordination, increase flexibility and develop muscle strength. All of these benefits have a powerful effect on developing a healthy self-confidence and positive self image.
The wellness benefits of playing outside go beyond just the physical aspects. For example, interacting with other children at the park promotes social skills and cooperation. Learning to take turns, playing games or creating imaginative outdoor activities together encourages friendships and healthy relationships. Spending time in the garden with Mom and Dad creates powerful bonding and lasting memories, all while learning about healthy eating, caring for other living things and providing countless opportunities for teachable moments. Being outdoors also increases Vitamin D intake, essential for bone strength and effective for preventing diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity reduces stress and burns energy, which have been shown to increase attention spans and allow children to focus better when they are indoors in a learning environment.
All that being said, technology and nature can peacefully coexist. For the child who never wants to be disconnected, parents may consider bringing the technology outside. This can simply involve sitting on a blanket in the yard while playing online instead of indoors in an artificially lighted room. Or perhaps the cellphone or digital camera can be used to capture pictures or video of your outdoor adventures. For the child who lacks interest in the great outdoors, make it more desirable by tying the outdoor world to technology. Create an electronic journal of your excursions. Or use the Internet to help plan your next big outdoor adventure. Research the national parks in your region as well as water parks, local fishing areas or farms with pick-your-own opportunities. Get creative. You can find methods to blend these two very different ways for kids to learn, grow and explore. Providing a healthy balance of outdoor play and exercise with reasonable screen time is a great way for them to gain the benefits of both. Set limits on the amount of time allowed using TV, the Internet and online games. Mix this with plenty of sunshine and outdoor time to provide a well-rounded, balanced learning environment for your child.