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09 Feb, Thursday
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Montreal Families

Books that encourage outdoor play

We are almost all caught up in the digital age – parents and kids alike. This is causing many of us to live a sedentary lifestyle, which has negative implications to our family’s health and well being. So we’ve reviewed a few books that will give you some ideas about how to leave the house and enjoy the great outdoors with your children.

When I was a little kid, my parents would unceremoniously push me and my two siblings out the door, admonishing us to “go get some fresh air and sunshine.” To prove how serious they were, they’d often lock the front door as we departed.

So we’d drift down to local park to climb the weeping willow tree or stage elaborate games of “cops and robbers” in the shrubs and bushes. Sometimes we’d wander the edges of the park, looking for what we called “army bugs” that rolled up into a tight, black ball when you touched them.

Back then, parents took for granted that children belonged outside, something that doesn’t hold as true today. Family life is busier and more structured, with kids spending many hours inside, either in classes or glued to a computer or television screen.

However, writers and researchers are starting to talk about the importance of spending time outside. Research is showing that playing outdoors — even in urban areas where greens spaces are more limited — may help children develop a wide range of skills, from being able to pay close attention (watch how a child will examine a spotted ladybug) to understanding basic concepts of physics (dirt feels different when it is dry or when it is a wet, muddy mess). And kids are physically active when playing outdoors, a boon in these days of rising childhood obesity rates. Here are some books that look at the importance of nature and offer easy ways for families to start making the most of the green spaces around them.

I Love DirtI Love Dirt: 52 Activities to Help You & Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature and Let’s Go Outside: Outdoor Activities and Projects to Get You and Your Kids Closer to Nature (Trumpeter, $16.99 and $17.95 respectively), by Jennifer Ward.

Children’s interest in nature, and the way they play outside, changes with age. These two books address this challenge with I Love Dirt offering 52 simple activities for kids ages 4-8 and Let’s Go Outside, focusing on more complex projects and ideas for children ages 8-12. In I Love Dirt, the author encourages parents to help their children look, touch and, if possible, play with common items in nature from rocks to spider webs. She offers age appropriate and helpful explanations for common questions like: What are clouds? and How are snowflakes made? The activities are presented by season, so you can easily find ideas for a particular time of year. In Let’s Go Outside (photo above), the author presents ideas for outdoor games (ones most parents will remember like Kick the Can and Capture the Flag) and then outlines interesting craft and project ideas like making an underwater viewer from a milk carton or snowshoes from flattened cereal boxes. Each activity is followed by a sidebar entitled “Take It Further” with questions to help children delve a bit more into a particular topic.

Last Child in the WoodsLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder (Atlantic Books, $13.79), by Richard Louv.

This is a must-read for anyone who is interested in the research behind the movement to get children back to nature. First published in 2005 and with a new edition just released in June, this book explores what the author refers to as “nature deficit disorder,” or the increasing discomfort many kids feel about being in nature. Louv suggests that children afflicted by this disorder (which is not recognized as an official medical or mental problem) are more likely to suffer from attention deficit disorder, be overweight, show a lack of imagination and curiosity and feel less connected to their communities. While this could all sound alarming, Louv shares stories from families around the world who are finding ways to enjoy the great outdoors, making this an inspiring read.

The Green HourThe Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids (Trumpeter, $22), by Todd Christopher.

This engaging and easy-to-read book explores why spending time outside is so critical for children. The author suggests simple activities for getting the whole family involved in exploring nature. Christopher, who has worked as an editor for U.S. magazines like Ranger Rick, helped create the National Wildlife Federation’s Green Hour website, which promotes the value of spending at least one hour a day outside. The book offers activities and projects, geared to different ages, for all kinds of green spaces, from the backyard or local park to the seashore or a forest. The author discusses how to adapt activities to changing seasons and the book is filled with useful information about identifying trees, insects, birds and animal tracks. Numerous sidebars provide suggestions for where to obtain more information. Parents wanting to encourage a love of nature in their children won’t go wrong with this book as its easy-to-do projects will have everyone racing for the door.

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