Out and about

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
We're heading to the colder time of the year, but there's still no reason why youngsters shouldn't spend a good part of each day outside, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
American child advocate Richard Louv has coined the term "Nature deficit disorder" to describe our indoor generation, which he believes suffers from a form of sensory deprivation. Our children have lost touch with the natural world because they spend so much time sitting indoors.

Increasingly, time is consumed by electronic technology, while modern homes often have little land attached to them.

There's too much at stake if youngsters don't get a decent dose of the outdoors on a regular basis. They need to have the time and occasion to develop physically, to move, to burn calories, to be physically creative and to get a dose of sunlight for the vitamin D, the body's biological clock and general health and wellbeing.

Outdoors is where children interact with one another physically rather than just via cellphones, email or social media sites. They need the freedom to exercise their imaginations and to play their games, and outside is where they tend to do this - new games with all the rules and social interaction involved. They learn to get on with others, to cope with others, to fit in and abide by their rules.

There's great value in children having opportunities to smell, hear and feel the elements of nature they can't indoors - insects, clouds, puddles, wet grass, blackberries, fallen leaves and mud.

Outdoors they can ride bikes and fall off bikes; climb trees and fall out of trees; build huts and find other hideaway places. They can run with dogs and kick balls; throw Frisbees and dig for worms; watch butterflies and pick flowers.

We've probably "cotton-woolled" our children a bit too much, made playgrounds too safe, removed just a little too much risk. In doing that, have we removed the ability for children to learn how to recognise and assess potential dangers for themselves? Have we, in fact, left them in greater long-term danger because they are unable to make these judgements for themselves?

I would argue that children actually need to fall out of trees, break the odd limb, skin an elbow, bruise a leg and get a bit of sunburn to appreciate cause and effect and to learn to respect nature. After all, for centuries, children have survived many of the "dangers" we worry about.

On a fine winter's day, why not take a group of them and let them loose at the nearest park, playground or beach? You can feel good about contributing to their wellbeing and putting some balance in their lives. Maybe even take a moment to join in yourself.


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