Earth Day is April 22. It’s a day reserved for highlighting ways to protect the environment and connecting with nature. Especially when it comes to celebrating Earth Day with kids, spending more time outside is an easy step that has many lasting benefits for both the environment and all of us.
One way we can extend our activities beyond just one day is to take a vow to spend more time outdoors.
There is mounting research that supports the idea that children [and adults] who spend regular time playing and learning in the natural world are happier, healthier, smarter, more creative and better problem solvers.
Children have few opportunities for unstructured play due to hectic schedules, lifestyle changes, environmental barriers and the rise of electronic media. Current statistics state that over 90% of a child’s week is spent indoors and 50 hours per week is spent on screen time (TV, video games, iPods, etc). That’s a lot of inactivity and it’s leading to some major health problems.
Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Center for Disease Control recommend 60 minutes of unstructured play for kids per day.
What does unstructured play look like?
It’s good, old-fashioned free play… with an added bonus is if it’s in nature!
“While traditional playgrounds have their time and place, I would encourage parents and caregivers to ‘think outside the park’ into the surrounding settings, particularly if there is more natural area there,” Janice Swaisgood of the Children & Nature Network says.
Kids learn to negotiate, create, problem-solve, etc. in very different ways in the natural world when everything isn’t equidistant and covered in rubber protection.
Swaisgood shares these simple and fun ideas for connecting with nature this Earth Day (and beyond):
- Explore nature in your yard or nearest nature area: turn over pots, snap pictures of living creatures and allow unstructured time to romp and connect.
- Attend a community Earth Day fair and learn about ways to protect the nature areas around your community and keep the environment safe and clean.
- Gather a group of friends to play and learn in nature at a local park or trail.
- Organize a community beach cleanup or litter pickup.
- Pledge to join or start a nature club of your own.
Start your own Family Nature Club on Earth Day
A Family Nature Club is something you can easily set up for your own family, friend group, or community. It’s a wonderful way to invite others to share in their passion for the natural world and for connecting with nature.
Both by accident and by design, a Family Nature Club addresses the many factors keeping today’s families out of nature. The fun element of this “play date on a trail” makes nature more competitive with the lure of digital devices. Asking families to make a commitment via the RSVP function on online meet ups helps over-scheduled families keep nature on their calendars (just like a gym buddy helps you keep your exercise appointment).
Having an experienced leader to show them where to go to explore nature removes the uncertainties and hassles of finding a good place to go. And, the group setting provides reassurance to allay fear of strangers or dangers of nature itself. You’ll find advice on starting your own club via the Nature Clubs for Families toolkit.
Use Earth Day as a springboard to locate and find ways to connect your family to nature. The health and mental benefits are innumerable and help children (and adults) develop a sense of place, fostering a life-long love of the natural world.