Most kids today prefer to unwind after a long day of school by chatting with friends through texts or playing video games. Less, it seems, are interested in heading outdoors to engage in natural play like climbing trees or riding bikes. Even though it's OK for youngsters to gain knowledge about electronics, shouldn't they also have a chance to be kids running free? The latter is exactly the thought of organizers of the Families Outside X-Ploring (FOX) program in Louisville, Kentucky, The Courier-Journal reports.
How FOX is helping
The program, lead by organizers from Metro Parks, recently ran its first of four outings that are meant to encourage families to put down the phones, remotes and computers in exchange for good, old-fashioned fun. Christa Weidner, a Jefferson Memorial Forest naturalist, led the recent hike during which healthy kids had fun searching for different colored leaves and then learning which trees each came from.
Weidner, who grew up playing in the woods and has since made conservation efforts her life's work, was thrilled to be a part of the FOX program, especially since she has the ability to pique children's interest in nature.
"Since we've been here, the kids have really enjoyed running around in the woods, building the shelters, playing with the paint rocks, and just seeing what they can do in nature and have fun," Weidner told the publication regarding the success of the outing. "This is really important for them to get outside, get away from the gadgets."
Why playing outside matters
Being in nature boasts many benefits for children, ranging from emotional and physical improvements to social and cognitive gains. One of the most important perks of allowing kids to run around out back using playground equipment is that they get to be imaginative and enjoy free time, something that has been on the decline in recent years.
Data from the Family Social Science Department at the University of Minnesota has found the amount of free time kids between the ages of 3 and 12 have has declined by 12 hours a week from 1981 to 1997. More surprisingly, unstructured outdoor activity for these ages decreased by 50 percent in the same time frame. Free play time, such as riding bikes or playing "kitchen," is also down by about three hours a week.
Finding ways to help kids get more time outside is crucial to help them grow strong and healthy. The National Wildlife Federation reports children who play outside are typically more fit than their peers who play inside, and they also tend to be less stressed and anxious.