Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues when she’s not playing outside.
Have you played outside today?
June 15 is Nature Play Day, according to the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, a network of organizations and people who are trying to connect children with nature. Nature Play Day is a way to emphasise the importance of getting kids – and adults –outside.
Being active outdoors can improve physical and emotional health and enhance creativity and learning. It’s also beneficial to the environment; when we spend time in nature we appreciate it more.
According to David Suzuki and Faisal Moola, especially when we live in cities, we separate ourselves from the natural world around us, learning to see it as inconvenient or dangerous. After all, it’s full of insects that bite, poisonous plants, and rocks we can slip on, and requires sunscreen, rain gear, fences and close supervision. Being indoors is easy, and besides, has computers, games, TV and the Internet. When we marginalise the natural world, though, we don’t feel a part of it. Suzuki and Moola say that “unless we are willing to encourage our children to reconnect with and appreciate the natural world, we can’t expect them to help protect and care for it.”
In Canada, and elsewhere, there’s growing recognition of the importance of getting kids outdoors. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, links “nature deficit disorder” – the lack of nature in our lives – to rises in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. His recent book, The Nature Principle, is a vision of the future in which we learn to restore nature in our cities and our lives.
Connecting children and adults with nature has implications for how we educate, how we organize and spend our time, and how we build and maintain cities and neighbourhoods. It also requires promoting the idea of getting outdoors, and providing opportunities to do so. Across the country, educators, health professionals, recreation programmers, parks staff and many others are working on ways to get people outside to play, especially in an unstructured way.
It’s also about just getting outside. Adam Kreek, an Olympic gold medalist and Nature Play Day Ambassador, says “Nature Play Day reminds us that it’s OK to be outside. It’s OK to play and get grass-stained knees, dirty palms and a sticky shirt. It’s more than OK… It’s necessary!!”
The Child and Nature Alliance of Canada has suggestions for outdoor play on its website and Facebook page. I didn’t find any Nature Play Day events listed for Ottawa, but no matter where in the city you live, nature isn’t far away. Why not:
- Get up early and listen to the sounds of nature around you – how many birds do you hear?
- Walk, bike, scooter or skateboard to school or work, and take time to look around;
- At work, hold a meeting outside, or have lunch in a park;
- Spend a few extra minutes in the school yard before or after school;
- Take your kids into the back yard to look for interesting flowers, rocks or bugs;
- Do some family or community gardening;
- Go for a walk in the woods;
- Have a family picnic at dinnertime;
- Spend time in the playground after soccer or baseball practice;
- Play tag or catch a ball in your local park;
- Round up some neighbours and go for an evening stroll.
As I write this, I realise that on June 15 one of my kids will be going on a field trip to the Bill Mason Outdoor Education Centre and I’m taking the other to the Experimental Farm – so we’re set for Nature Play Day! What are your plans?