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Column: The great outdoors - a place for young imaginations to grow

By PAM SCHUTT, Worthington Christian School

WORTHINGTON — Today’s kids are growing up in a society that is filled with technology. They are surrounded by computers, video games, cellphones, iPads and iPods. As a first- and second-grade teacher at Worthington Christian School, I have noticed that the topic of conversation among my 6-, 7 and 8-year olds often revolves around electronics.

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An increasing problem teachers face is getting kids to go outside for recess. The most common phrases students use are “It’s boring!” or “There’s nothing to do!” Schools have beautiful playgrounds and sports equipment for kids to play with, and yet that is not enough to keep their attention. A big reason for this is that kids are so used to the fast-paced games and stimulating technology that they do not know how to use their imaginations and play without their technological devices.

This past fall at the Heartland Teacher’s Convention in Sioux Center, Iowa, I listened to a speaker named Miska Rynsburger who led a sectional on “Nature and the Whole Child.” She explained that due to growing technology, children are spending more time indoors and less time outdoors exploring God’s world.

Ten years ago, children spent an average of nine hours per week playing outside. This did not include organized sports games or recess, but actual time playing outside at home. Compare that to today, when children spend only two hours per week playing outdoors. Part of this change comes from parents who are both working and are not at home to encourage outdoor play. Busy extracurricular activities after school also make outdoor play challenging.

As a result, it has become the norm for children to sit and play their electronic devices indoors. This can lead to a sedentary lifestyle as well as poor eyesight from sitting close to a screen for so long. Sitting still and paying attention without the bells and whistles of technology becomes a challenge in church, school and other places, too.

Children should be encouraged to play outside for one hour every day. The fresh air is good for kids, and the physical activity tires them out a lot faster! Kids should be encouraged to hunt for bugs, dig in the dirt, ride their bikes, and explore God’s world. Outdoor play fosters a child’s imagination. A stick can become a flag. A rock becomes a camel. A cloud in the sky can turn into a spaceship.

Parents should encourage their children to use their imagination when they play outside. Give your child an empty egg carton and have them fill it up with objects in nature that are all one color. You will be amazed at what they find!

Rynsburger encouraged teachers to make a conscious effort to take kids outside to foster better learning opportunities. When studying clouds, it is better for students to go outside to identify the types of clouds they see in the sky rather than using a textbook.

During one of the last warm days of October, I took my first- and second-graders outside for PE. They cheered and were very excited to play — until I told them they were not allowed to use any of the playground equipment or balls. Their faces fell instantly and I was immediately asked the question, “What are we supposed to do then?” I encouraged them to find something to do using their imagination.

Once we got outside, the exploring began! Several kids found sticks and began building campfires, forts and a two-story house that included a bedroom, living room, bathroom and basement. Others went bug hunting. They captured more than 50 grasshoppers and many worms. When we came inside, the kids asked when we could do that again because they had so much fun.

Technology is not bad, but it should be limited so that children have a good balance of both indoor and outdoor play.