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Start the School Year Off Right — Tips for Incorporating Outdoor Play in Your Back-to-School Routine

Image of three young boys using a magnifying glass to examine a tree trunk for National Recreation and Park Association's story for PHA's 2017 #PHABack2School campaign.

Guest Post by the National Recreation and Park Association for #PHABack2School


Does back-to-school time have you dreading the end of long days at the pool and outside summer fun? Even though summer is almost over there are still plenty of opportunities for you and your family to be active in the outdoors. As a matter of fact getting your kids outside can increase their academic success as they head back into the classroom. According to research complied by Children & Nature Network spending time in nature enhances critical thinking and problem solving, decreases disruptive behaviors, and increases children’s enthusiasm for learning. Plus outdoor kids equal healthy kids. Children who spend regular time in nature have a decreased risk of obesity and are more physically active than their peers who, on average, spend as few as 30 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play and more than seven hours in front of an electronic screen.

Local parks and greenspace are ideal venues for identifying a variety of nature based play activities. And because these activities are often close to home, they will be easy to integrate into your back-to-school time routine. So before you resign yourself and your family to a season full of carpools and deskwork under fluorescent lights - check out these tips for keeping you and your family healthy and happy in the outdoors.

Ditch the bus stop

According to the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership 5 million children are currently living within one mile of school and could be walking or bicycling instead of being driven or taking the bus. Look for bike or pedestrian paths in your community as a transportation alternative to and from school. You may even find a local park on your route home where your children can play and spend their energy from a day sitting at school. If walking or biking to school isn’t an option, seek out hiking and biking trails in nearby local parks for after school time fun.

Explore a natural playground

Unlike the large plastic structures that make up the majority of neighborhood playgrounds, nature play spaces incorporate natural objects and surrounding landscapes to engage children in hands-on play. By utilizing tree stumps, rocks and water, nature playgrounds create an open-ended play environment where children of all abilities can exercise their imagination and their bodies while interacting with nature. Plus studies show that when natural elements are added to a playground, the length of time a child plays is more than doubled.

Check out Kaboom’s Map of Play to find a nature playground near you.

Sign up for a class

Young hikers stop to observe an object on the ground during a hike.

Look to your local nature center or park and recreation before or after school time programs for classes that encourage kids to explore the outdoors. Choose from a wide range of activities such as outdoor sports like kayaking and mountain biking, or environmental education programs that get children involved in STEAM learning through community gardening, interpretive hikes or outdoor arts and crafts.

Or do it yourself! Download National Recreation and Park Association’s Wildlife Explorer workbook in English or Spanish and create your own nature class with your kids. The easy to follow six chapter curriculum is full of hands on activities for kids and was designed to be implemented by adults with little to no nature programing experience.

Regardless of what activity you chose, start the school year off right by getting outside to play! Your kids will be happier, healthier and smarter as a result.

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