Turn off your television, computers and go outside and play!

Today’s children seem to be increasingly disconnected from nature and more connected to staying inside with their television programs, movies, video games, computers, iPods and even digital educational devices.

Children today spend an average of seven hours a day viewing screens. Research has been, and continues to be done, on the effects of screens on the brain. Children’s exposure to television and other screens have been shown to be linked to attention problems, difficulties in school, sleeping and eating disorders and obesity. Thirty years ago, we would not have believed that this technology-driven society would have such a negative impact on our children.

The effects of screens appear to be so detrimental that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television viewing for children younger than 2. It also recommends screen time for older children and teens to be no more than one or two hours per day. Even then, these programs should be educational and nonviolent.

With the weather warming up, it is the perfect opportunity to “unplug” our children and get them outside to play. The benefits of outdoor play are endless. Children who play outside have improved health, concentration, social interactions, imaginations, chances to develop new interests and physical fitness. It is easy to send an older children outside to play with their soccer balls, bug boxes and backyard swing sets. However, parents of babies and toddlers may wonder how they can encourage outdoor play for their child. This is very important because it can set the stage for the child continuing to be interested in outdoor play as she gets older.

Here are some ideas to get outside with your baby or toddler:

Use all of your senses as you take a nature walk. Listen for sounds of birds or insects and talk about them with your child. Collect items to explore in detail, such as rocks, pine cones and leaves. Name the things you look at and touch.

Take a ball outside. There are fewer rules to ball play when you are outside. Let your toddler kick, throw and catch the ball as he develops his large motor skills.

Dust off the sandbox. Sand play encourages sensory exploration for children to discover the texture, color and temperature of the sand as they scoop, pour, dump and dig. If you do not have a sandbox, consider using a plastic tub filled with sand, rice or grains. Make sure to provide items such as measuring spoons, sifters, scoopers and spoons for your child to explore.

Play with bubbles. Blow the bubbles and encourage your child to catch them and step on them. Babies will enjoy watching the bubbles. This is a good game to help develop eye-hand coordination and visual tracking.

Get out the sprinkler. Even babies enjoy sitting next to the sprinkler while older toddlers like to run and jump through the water.

For more information about the effects of screens on children, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics website at www.aap.org.

Jessice Keitz is the early childhood education coordinator for The Family Center of Durango.

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