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Kids need fewer screens & more nature

It’s time for kids to put down their smartphones and spend more time in nature. Today’s blog explores the benefits of fresh air and time spent outdoors.

I recently read a blog post featured on 1000 Hours Outside that suggests kids need to spend 4-6 hours outside every single day.

Does that sound like a lot to you? Too little? Or just right?

According to the article, “No matter the situation we are in we owe it to our children to try our best to give them the baseline components they need for higher-level development. Maybe 4-6 hours a day outside isn't doable but the current statistics say that the average child only gets 4-7 minutes of outdoor free play every day. This means that the average child is probably outside for 30 minutes or so a few times a week.”

Now I’ll readily admit with this brutal winter we’ve been having, my kids’ time outside is closer to the 4-7 minute range and not the 4-6 hours as prescribed. Yet, I understand the importance of being outside, and we anxiously await spring’s arrival so we can do just that!

The blog post also shares a shocking statistic that kids stare at a screen or some type of electronic device for a whopping 1,200 hours per year on average. If we could shift those hours to time spent outdoors, how would that affect our nation’s youth and their overall happiness?

Forgive me if this is outside of the scope of my regular postings on BEEF. As a ranch mom of three, having the opportunity to raise my kids in the country where we have instant access to adventures right outside our door, I completely resonate with this message and firmly believe that all youth would benefit from more time spent outside.
Here’s why.

Before there were iPods, iPads, Apple watches and smartphones used to constantly entertain and distract us from the mundane and monotony of everyday life, kids (and adults, too) had to deal with boredom by creating their own fun.

According to the blog post, “Children who are allowed this freedom of time outside get lost in nature. They get lost in their imaginations and they get lost in wonder. And then they rapidly develop. There are many factors why, but one reason is due to the rich sensory environment that nature always provides.”

I think back to my own youth and remember watching gates for my dad when it was time to feed hay. It was boring at times, but I can remember collecting rocks, splashing in mud puddles, singing songs or telling stories to my younger sisters.

When we weren’t helping with cattle chores, we would spend a lot of time in the backyard swinging, climbing trees, making things out of sticks, playing tag or hide-and-seek, creating new worlds and using our imagination to keep us entertained.

No cheap toys or batteries or dollars spent at the Apple store or Target required — just good old-fashioned fun on the farm.

Then, there’s the practical lessons kids learn from time spent outside. Bees sting. Wires cut. Tree branches scrape. Mud and wet socks make for blisters on your feet.

These small “ouch” moments create critical thinking skills. Being close to nature, you quickly realize that the world can sometimes be harsh. There’s no bubble wrap to protect you from life’s harsh realities.

Beyond that, ranch kids learn the circle of life. Sometimes calves die. That hurts your heart, a lot. Sometimes things go wrong, no matter how hard you try. And when that feedlot steer is ready to eat, you’ve got to say goodbye, but it’s OK because he is serving his purpose and nourishing your family and other families with beef and by-products.

And then in the most critical of situations, time spent in nature can really pay off. Every summer, you hear about the dumb tourists who get mauled by the bison in Yellowstone National Park. Just last week, I read a story about a lady who tried to get a selfie with a jaguar at the zoo and was attacked by the animal as a result. Obviously, these people yearn for nature but have never spent much time in it to know how to behave.

To contrast these ridiculous tourists, two sisters in California (age 5 and 8) recently survived 44 hours in a California forest during a freezing rain.

How did they do it?

They learned survival skills through their local 4-H club. The girls drank water off of leaves, found shelter under thick overgrowth and stayed in one place until they were found. The girls shivered in the cold and told stories to each other to pass the time. Remarkably, they were found and in good health and good spirits.

As horrific as that experience would be, both for the girls and their parents, can you imagine how much worse it could have been had they not participated in 4-H and learned those skills?

What I’m saying is this — as millennial parents, it can be tempting to get sucked into the temptation of doing grand, elaborate vacations with your young kids; however, the best gift you can probably give your kids is to unplug and send them outside.

Fun literally awaits outside our doorsteps, and as long as your kids know and understand farm safety, the possibilities for play are endless. Plus, the more time your kids spend outside, the more involved they can be in helping on the ranch, too.

All that being said, I sure hope the sun starts shining soon. My kids could use a little more outdoor time, and I’m tired of worrying about frostbite! Where are you at, spring?

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Farm Progress.

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