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creativity, free play, hammers, iPad, kids, nature deficit disorder, outdoors, screen time, TV -

How Playing Outside Will Save Civilization

Catchy title, don't you think? Hyperbole? Catastrophizing?

Perhaps a little bit... but with the rise of the popularity of technological gadgetry as "babysitters" and "teachers" it's time to be a bit inflammatory! Article after article after article states that kids are spending too much time in front of screens these days and not enough time simply playing- outdoors or indoors. This lack of free play and unscheduled time could prove to be disastrous on their ability to keep a sense of wondrous exploration alive in their hearts and minds. iPad time may also interfere with social skills, empathy and problem solving abilities. There aren't enough peer-reviewed published scientific studies on the topic as of yet to state definitively that all this screen time is harmful to kids' developing brains, but from experience as a mama to two boys- 4 and 6 years old- I can say that tech can be addicting and indeed stymies the desire to play in undirected ways and makes it more difficult to get them outside. Screens beget screens.

I am a huge proponent of letting kids be kids and encouraging them to explore, experiment and play with everything that surrounds them. Pots, pans, tape, boxes, rocks, sticks, tubes, string... If it's not inherently dangerous (as in able to set fire to the house!) they can use it in their play. There are no rules as to how they can play with their toys or found objects. For example, this afternoon, we went outside and my younger son started experimenting with his dump truck and the garden hose with spray nozzle. We aren't in a drought here, so there was no limit on his use of water to experiment with force and friction. He came up with the experiment because he is naturally curious- like all children! I love this quote:

To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.
-- Thomas A. Edison

We have a lot of junk in our house! I hope they will carry their inventive minds with them into adulthood.

Our boys have also been given the responsibility from a young age to use and explore things that some might say are inherently dangerous, such as knives, hammers and nails. Since boxes are a huge source of inspiration for them, they have been taught how to use knives to cut the boxes into whatever they wish. No, they are not the absolute sharpest knives in our house, but they are knives nonetheless. I like to believe that having been shown how to use a knife safely and to respect that it can hurt someone will instill a sense of responsibility and care. The same goes for hammers, nails and other building tools. Respect the screwdriver! Running with one in your hand is just not safe. They can spend hours hammering away outside and playing with odd bits of wood and that is part of the point- just being outside developing fine and gross motor skills, creating something and finishing a project they've begun.

Now before you think I am judging the parenting styles of others, I am not. Not even one little bit! Parents do their best- I truly believe this. We all need a break sometimes and with the proliferation of tablets and smart phones, it is tempting and oh-so-easy to give in and hand it over. I'll admit it- I use technology for breaks in parenting. I don't have family around and babysitters are not in our budget. I use Netflix and shows like "Sid the Science Kid," "Fetch," and "Super Why," rationalizing that at least the boys are learning something, right? (Don't burst my bubble please! ;-) Do they get the iPad on occasion? Why yes they do- in planes or as a special treat at home. The iPad is a treat given less often than sugar in our house because I swear, the withdrawal symptoms are 10X worse with my boys!

Back to that blog post title... Will sending our kids outside to play save civilization? Maybe not. However, I have seen with my own eyes that my kids are more inventive, creative and collaborative when they are outside and playing freely than they are when they are inside in front of a screen or two. My observations are similar to others', so I doubt my family or experience is unique. Until the definitive study shows otherwise, I will continue to shove my boys out the door in the hope that they can save the world.

Tell me what you think? How do you use tech in your daily life as a parent?

Wishing you an adventurous day!




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