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A Natural Remedy

Why children need to spend time outdoors

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Kids these days! They spend way too much time on screens with distance learning, and then after school, they usually want to play video games or watch a show.

Even before the pandemic and online school, children were spending more time in front of computers and less time outdoors than previous generations, and rightfully, many parents are concerned. Will our kids be cut off from the natural world? Is their intellectual, physical and social development appropriate? Is too much screen time causing other problems? It's enough to drive us crazy!

JOSHUA SAVAGE
  • Joshua Savage

Years ago, I read "Last Child in the Woods" by Richard Louv. In the book, he investigates the rise of nature deficit disorder, a condition stemming from a lack of time outdoors which leads to behavioral issues and little or no respect for natural surroundings. And he wrote about the topic even before the advent of iPhones!

Our kids may seem perfectly fine. We may believe all is well. Or, perhaps we notice signs that tell a different story. Whether explicit or implicit, we may sense issues like persistent anxiousness, trouble sleeping, hyperactivity, vision problems and other abnormal behaviors.

As parents, we have a responsibility to balance our child's activities. Still young and developing, they don't always know what is best for themselves. Give kids a choice, and the majority of them would be glued to the screen most of their waking hours.

The easiest remedy?

Get outside!

Sofiah and Kaia enjoy a day along the Deschutes River Trail. - JOSHUA SAVAGE
  • Joshua Savage
  • Sofiah and Kaia enjoy a day along the Deschutes River Trail.

Now, more than ever, kids need time outdoors. The amazing playground of nature has countless well-documented and researched benefits. For starters, exposure to the sun boosts vitamin D levels, which in turn builds strong bones and a healthier immune system. According to WebMD and Reuters, research by scientists in Europe even suggests that children who are exposed to more natural sunlight are less likely to become myopic (nearsighted).

Think about how much a kid's imagination expands while outside. Constructing forts, playing with pets, building homemade obstacle courses, exploring the neighborhood – these sensory stimulating pursuits help kids navigate the environment, teach independence, build confidence, develop motor skills and promote a sense of accomplishment. And of course, the physical activity builds muscles and wears them out so they sleep better at night!

Even during the chilly months of winter, Bend still gets plenty of sunshine. And speaking of the cold, according to Harvard Health, lower temperatures actually improve sleep quality, fight off infections and improve brain function. Research also shows that the cold makes kids more resilient!

Central Oregon winters often get frigid, but even with freezing temperatures the activities in our area seem limitless, and most kids love to play in the snow. Skiing, snowboarding or tubing at Mt. Bachelor is always an adventurous way to spend winter days. Nearby sno-parks like Wanoga have steep, exhilarating slopes ready to be sledded. Smaller hills as close as Drake Park can be found all around town, and possibly in your own neighborhood.

Fresh air and sunshine at Mt. Bachelor! - JOSHUA SAVAGE
  • Joshua Savage
  • Fresh air and sunshine at Mt. Bachelor!

Places like Virginia Meissner Sno-Park and the Tumalo Falls Trail are great for snowshoeing. Hikes at Rimrock Springs, Tam-a-Lau, Misery Ridge and many others have little or no snow, and with colder temps and less crowds, they can be more rewarding during the winter.

If you are searching for structured activities, check out programs with local organizations. Bend Park & Recreation, the Environmental Center, Camp Tamarack or Wanderlust Tours and other Central Oregon businesses are finding creative ways during COVID to keep kids and adults active outside year-round.

Suggestions for winter are almost limitless, but I find the most beneficial activities are those when my daughters explore on their own. They have reached the age when they prefer to choose how to spend their time. I simply tell them to go outside, and they ride their bikes, play in the forested lot next door, make snow ice cream, or discover inventive ways to entertain themselves.

Apart from school, the time my girls spend on screens has to be equal or less than their time outside. For example, if they want an hour on Roblox or Tik Tok, they need to play outside for at least an hour. Our family also limits screen time on weekends, including tech-free Sundays when none of us use an electronic device. Unless we respond to a text or phone call, our minds are elsewhere, usually exploring the outdoors. You would be amazed how much gets accomplished!

Naturally, my daughters don't always agree or have the desire to get outdoors, but in the long term I believe they are developing an appreciation and connection. In fact, when I peek from the window and watch them climb a tree, or when they share adventures about the neighborhood bike rides, I know I am making the right decisions.

Parenting can be tough, especially in these crazy times, but the easiest and most helpful remedy is free and right in front of us —the natural world.

For "Dad" perspectives about parenting and local things to do with kids check out: getrevue.co/profile/dadsthebomb

For more information about activities in Bend pick up a copy of "100 Things to Do in Bend, Oregon" on sale at several at local shops and join the Facebook Group.

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