Getting children outdoors with friends and family is an easy, cheap and fun way to grow healthy and happy kids. Simple idea, right? But in the age of technology and social media, maybe not. Forget millennials, today’s Generation X (born from the mid-1990s) are growing up with smartphones, tablets, computers, gaming consoles and TVs commanding their attention. Auckland Operations Ranger Drew Divehall tells us how kids can get involved in nature through becoming a Toyota Kiwi Guardian!
Research tells us that kids are spending more time on technology and less time playing outdoors. This is no breaking news, but this challenge is of increasing importance to parents, park managers and health professionals alike. The scope of this problem was recently highlighted when the World Health Organisation declared gaming addiction a mental health disorder. The good news is that in New Zealand, we are blessed with so many amazing places and wildlife for our kids to connect with.
What are the benefits of kids spending more time outdoors?
• Learning – Children are calmer, more focused and more creative when playing and learning in nature.
• Development – Outdoor play promotes children’s critical thinking, cognitive function and the ability to assess risk.
• Mental health – Time in nature helps to reduce stress and improve mood, reducing the likelihood of children developing hyperactivity and depression.
• Sleep – Outdoor play leads to better sleep because of reduced stress, increased physical activity and exposure to natural light. In contrast to the negative effects of screen time.
• Weight – Outdoor play increases fitness levels and is associated with lower rates of obese and overweight children.
• Physical health – Increased outdoor activity is associated with better eyesight, stronger bones and reduced risk of a range of diseases. This leads to a healthier adult life.
• Social health – Children who engage in outdoor play with others display more pro-social behaviour, social skills, empathy and confidence.
• Environmental values – Outdoor experiences during childhood increase connection to nature, sense of identity and overall wellbeing. This results in lifelong connections to nature and more positive environmental attitudes and behaviours.
How can I get my kids outdoors more?
It doesn’t have to be boring, expensive or time consuming to help your kids enjoy the benefits of spending time outdoors. An awesome way to get kids into nature is with Toyota Kiwi Guardians, a free kids activity programme for 6-10 year olds and their families.
The programme is all about making outdoor activities fun, exciting and easy for families. To become a Kiwi Guardian, kids can complete Adventures or Actions. The cool part for kids is that they earn medals and certificates for each adventure and action they complete.
Adventures involve downloading or printing an adventure map from our website, then using the map to explore, discover and learn about our special places. During the adventure, kids find the Kiwi Guardians plaque with its unique code. The code is entered online to redeem a free medal and certificate in the mail. There are now more than 100 Adventures spread all over New Zealand.
Actions involve kids completing a conservation action that helps to take care of our nature. On our website you’ll find instructions on a range of fun and engaging actions. The best part is that these activities can be completed in your backyard and some of the actions can even be completed during an adventure, so kids can redeem two medals in one go!
Want more ideas? There are heaps of cool conservation activities on our website.