Spring has sprung, so make your way outside! Not only is a great way to play and enjoy the day, it’s good for you and your children.

By Holly Zipperer
Photo by Carrie Hill

Reconnecting kids with nature is a vital part of healthy child development. But children today are spending too many hours indoors “plugged in” to technology like smartphones and video games instead of riding bikes, climbing trees, or playing sports, in the great outdoors.

In 2005, writer Richard Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” to define the impact of people spending less time in nature. He believed that kids who spend time outdoors are less likely to get sick or stressed or become aggressive. And a new study from the Journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine states that nearly half of preschool children aren’t taken outside to play by their parents on a daily basis. Outdoor play can go a long way in improving your child’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being, particularly for kids with special needs. But it’s challenging to find the time for scheduled “play” with today’s busy schedules, work demands, and family obligations.

Here are four tips on getting kids outdoors this spring and summer:

Start simple.

Set aside 15-30 minutes each day to walk around the neighborhood together, visit a local park, or build a birdfeeder for the backyard.

Let your garden grow.

Gardening is a great activity for all kids, but especially those with special needs. Garden work builds fine motor skills, decreases stress, and teaches patience and responsibility.

Go hunting.

Organize a friendly treasure hunt around the neighborhood. Gather some kids, follow the clues, and find the treasure!

Toast some marshmallows.

One of the best ways to introduce kids to nature is to send them packing. Find a local camp and let your child discover the experience of outdoor adventure while developing important team building skills and independence.

Whether you are having a catch, planting your family’s favorite vegetable, or sending your child off to their first camp, there are endless ways to encourage “play” outdoors with your kids. Maybe you’ll even relive some of your favorite childhood memories!

Holly Zipperer, M.Ed. Special Ed., is the director of Summer Matters at Valley Forge Educational Services (VFES). VFES’ Summer Matters™ program offers a continuum of innovative programming for learners with special needs, ages 5 – 21, in the suburbs of Philadelphia. For information on the Summer Matters program, visit  www.summermatters.org.