The average fifth-grader will spend more than 4.5 hours every day in front of a screen. And while technology has made huge improvements in our ability to obtain knowledge, all this time staring into a phone, tablet, or TV is decidedly bad for the developing brain. Forbes explains, “looking at screens for hours a day can have some serious health and mental health consequences.”
In our ultra-connected world, it’s difficult for kids and adults alike to pull away from the screen and spend quality time in the big wide world instead of the world wide web. The time spent in nature is essential for a child’s health and physical, mental, and emotional development. Here are a few tips for encouraging safe and responsible open air exploration.
Dig in the dirt
Your backyard is the perfect place to host your very own geological or archaeological excavation. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find rocks and minerals or even fossils and ancient artifacts. According to HomeAdvisor, “Backyard geology also gives children an actual excuse to dig around in the dirt while still learning, which can encourage even the most skeptical of kids to at least give it a try.” Once they’ve collected their treasures, you can check out Geology.com for a list, including pictures and descriptions, of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks. Once you get the kids hooked, consider taking a vacation to one of the many fossil sites throughout the United States, including the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles or Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Colorado.
Speaking of things you can do at home to encourage time outdoors, consider letting your children sample sports. Badminton, horseshoes, and volleyball offer lots of physical activity but require a minimal investment. As an added benefit, these types of sports encourage hand-eye coordination and can prepare children for more demanding activities, such as tennis or basketball.
Hiking and biking
There’s a huge network of trails out there just waiting to be explored. No matter where you live, you can find a recreational, scenic, or historic trail to share with your kids. AmericanTrails.org lists thousands of sites from Maine to California to Florida and everywhere in between. Choose a trail that’s appropriate for your child’s age. For instance, if you’re hiking with a toddler, stick to a paved location that’s less than two miles long. Older kids can handle more strenuous outings, though you will still need to take safety precautions including staying on marked trails and wearing bright colors.
Another great thing to explore right at home are the spiders and insects that take up residence on your property. For the most part, outdoor insects are harmless, and your kids can learn a lot from watching the bees flutter through the trees. If they insist that they simply can’t put down their phones, there are plenty of apps they can use to identify and document their finds. There are even apps to identify birds, butterflies, and animal tracks if spiders and centipedes creep out the kids.
Join the Junior Rangers
The National Park Service has an awesome program called Junior Ranger. This free parks perk allows kids of all ages to be given the title of Junior Ranger by completing activities that teach about the land, animals, and preservation of our nation’s most beloved national treasures. Junior Rangers can explore aquatic habitats, learn about the abolitionist movement and the Underground Railroad, or experience underground caves and fossil parks.
Discover the Outdoors with Ivy League’s Summer Camp
Ivy League Kids knows how important it is for kids to experience outdoor play and activities. Join our energenic counselors as we explore many outdoor adventures throughout the summer. Some of our field trips to the State Parks focus on being in nature and using your imagination.
Whether it’s dabbling in sports at summer camp, donning a Junior Rangers badge, or following butterflies through the flowers, the outside world has something for kids of all ages and interests. Change the Wi-Fi password if you must, but get them off the couch and into the outdoors.