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Winning the Battle Between Outdoor Play and Screen Time

By Stephanie Carson

HIGHLANDS, N.C. – It’s hard to compete with a child’s drive for more screen time, especially as boredom sets in on a long summer day, but at least one North Carolina land trust offers parents an alternative to video games and phone apps.

The Highland-Cashiers Land Trust hosts a “Kids and Nature” program, working with 11 community groups to offer summer day camps and after-school programs. Education coordinator Sarah Purcell said any adult can employ the same tools at home with guided outdoor activities.

“Just in your backyard, even, you can just go outside, and doing a nature scavenger hunt is really great idea,” she said. “Just think about things that you might find outside, like insects or spiders or salamanders.”

Experts also advise telling kids it’s OK to get wet and dirty outdoors, and to incorporate natural features into play equipment, such as tree stumps and boulders. According to the latest Common Sense Media report, children age 8 and under use some type of screen more than two hours a day.

Beyond reducing that screen time, Purcell said, it’s important to the Highland-Cashiers Land Trust to grow the Kids in Nature program, as a way of laying the groundwork for the future.

“The purpose of our program is to really reach the future stewards of our land because the kids that live here will one day be responsible for managing and stewarding these mountains,” she said. “And so we feel that it’s important to provide not only adults but kids with educational opportunities.”

Through the Kids in Nature program, children observe animals and their tracks, and learn about a variety of critters, including salamanders and frogs. Purcell also recommended planning picnics with children, and going for walks and bike rides to focus on having fun outdoors.

The report is online at commonsensemedia.org.

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