A Case for Unplugging Your Children and Going Outside

When my teenagers reminisce about their childhood, every single one of them will bring up a version of the same story. 
"Mom would send us outside for hours and leave us a bunch of pears on the porch for a snack."
Though they almost talk about their assigned outside time begrudgingly, when you listen to their stories, you hear whimsy, freedom, creativity, and adoring nostalgia.
My oldest will often say, "No, seriously, we had the best childhood!"
They created fairy gardens, played out their own version of the Hunger Games, dug holes, ran away from the chickens, drove the riding lawn mower and lost themselves in the giant trees, nature paths and gardens that made up our Everglades-like backyard.
Its the same undirected play that I remember reveling in as a child. Pedaling my bike off into the great unknown, stopping at every creek and bridge along the way to throw rocks and dip my toes in the cool water.
As dusk would set in, I would roll into the driveway just as my mother turned on the porch light, never the wiser to where my journey had taken me. 
My teens were lucky. 
They grew up in a place that facilitated outdoor play in a safe and vast, yet contained environment.
Today's typical childhood experience does not include having the Great Outdoors right off the steps of the porch. Most children are programmed throughout their day and will spend 50% less time outside during their childhood than their parents did.
To boot, according to a recent American study by the non-profit Common Sense Media, children eight years old and under spend an average of 2 hours and 19 minutes a day watching some sort of screen and 45% of them have their own device. 
This screen time has been linked to increased rates of childhood obesity, ADHD, anxiety, depression and what author and researcher Richard Louv refers to as Nature Deficit Disorder in our children.  
Louv, who wrote the national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, collaborated years of research that directly links time in nature to the positive development of a child's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
Outside time also increases immunity and Vitamin D absorption which complements the enhanced sensory motor skills and coordination a child acquires while playing in nature.
And, no surprise, adults need outside time too. It helps us stay present, more connected to our bodies, and generally provides a heightened mental clarity that you will never actualize while binge watching Game of Thrones. 
Now that the kids are out of school, its the perfect time to explore all of the natural offerings right here in our own backyard. 
A great local resource to help you facilitate this with your children is the Free Forest School of Southwest Florida. FFS creates free, regular 'nature play' opportunities for children to help empower the adults in their lives.  
These nature play gatherings help adults understand the importance of getting their children outside as they will see their child's independence and self-trust grow along with their creativity and emotional awareness.
FFS's philosophy is that as parents watch their child engage in self-directed outdoor play, they will realize that they can step back, do less and actually enjoy their surroundings as well. You can join the local Free Forest School Chapter at free-forest-school-southwest-florida.
Summer is upon us with longer days, beautiful sunsets, and exciting rainstorms that keep our natural areas in an ever changing metamorphosis.
I challenge you to help your child take back some of that 50% loss in outside time. Strap on your boots, slather up the sunscreen, and go find a puddle for you and your kids to jump in!   

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