In a technology driven world, it’s so important to make the time to spend time outside with your family. We waste so many hours a day staring at a screen that kids now only allocate 10 per cent of their playtime outside every week. This lack of nature time means kids and families are missing out their daily dose of Vitamin G (green!).
It’s well known that being outside and having contact with nature has a positive effect on your health and wellbeing, especially for kids. It can reduce stress levels and depression, increase confidence and self-esteem, reduce risks of obesity and myopia, improve concentration and even reduce the symptoms of ADHD. (Planting Trees: Just What the Doctor Ordered, Planet Ark 2012).
It has also been found that that contact with nature has a distinct happiness benefit and plays an important role in maintaining positive mental health.
Growing up I can remember climbing trees, running around at the local park, games of hide and seek, catching frogs and camping under the stars. I think one of the reasons I love and respect nature as much as I do is because I was exposed to nature as a child. It was a part of my every day and it made me so happy.
You can grow so much outside and it is imperative to be reminded of the benefits that getting outside amongst the trees can bring to you and your family. In fact, childhood is a time of physical, mental and emotional development and spending time outdoors provides a diversity of sounds, sights, smells and textures as well as exposure to native wildlife and plants.
It is no secret that Australians love the great outdoors. An independent study commissioned last year by Planet Ark and sponsored by Toyota, titled ‘Valuing Trees –What is nature worth?’ found that living in a home with a backyard and in a ‘green’ neighborhood is important to Australians, even more important than proximity to work, shops and public transport. In fact, 78 per cent of Australians want to live in a home with many natural elements, such as trees, plants and a garden. We WANT to be surrounded by nature and greenery!
So why aren’t we getting outside more?
As a working mother of two young boys, I know it can be really challenging to incorporate outdoor play into your family’s daily routine.
Life is so busy these days that it’s easy to forget about actively getting your kids and yourself outside. It can be challenging to get everything done – the homework, after school and weekend sports, play dates and tearing your kids away from the screen (be it television, computer, iPad or Xbox) but it’s worth it. The simple act of making time for nature can make you and your very family happy.
A report released by Planet Ark in 2011 titled ‘Climbing Trees: Getting Aussie Kids Back Outside’ found that over 90 per cent of respondents agreed with the benefits of outdoor play for the positive development and growth our of kids. These benefits included allowing children to use their imaginations, helping develop physical and motor skills, and providing a positive outlet for reducing stress.
My family makes time in nature part of our day in simple ways, such as walking along the beach to school instead of along the road. It takes a little longer, but this way we get to connect with nature and each other. The breathtaking trees line the foreshore, waves crash against the sand, sunshine sparkles on the water.
Our daily problems seem like minutia in comparison.
We’re reminded of the magnificence of nature and it’s beauty, vitality, promise and inspiration. It’s irreplaceable. I have seen my kids flourish and grow so much from having an active outdoor lifestyle and as they get older they are starting to understand why being outside is important for them as well.
Here are some ideas to get your kids outside and grow:
- Outdoor BBQ or family picnics at the local park
- Employ a ‘daily dose of 30 minutes of green time’ rule for the whole family (not just the kids!)
- Local council and community initiatives such as nature walks, fishing, bird watching or kayaking
- Get involved in National Tree Day, Australia’s largest tree planting and nature care event
- Read nature-related stories to your children – the Dr Seuss classic The Lorax is a favourite and also the Grug series by Australian author Ted Prior.
- An impromptu game of hide and seek or backyard cricket
- Gardening (here are some gardening ideas to do with the kids!)
About the Author: Debbie Agnew is the National Tree Day Manager at Planet Ark and mother of two active boys, aged 12 and 8.
To find out more about National Tree Day, please visit treeday.planetark.org.