Photography by: Dominick Guillemot
2. Take them outside The average American child spends more than seven and a half hours a day in front of electronic screens, according to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation report. That may be just one of the reasons that the same average child spends only four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play, as documented by University of Michigan researchers. It’s a situation that many refer to as “nature-deficit disorder,” a term coined by author Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (Algonquin Books). Fact is, studies find that playing outside is associated with lower levels of childhood obesity, optimal vitamin D levels (which translate to better brain and physical health), fewer symptoms of attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), improved longdistance vision and even higher standardized test scores. “From spending time in nature, a child develops self-confidence and resilience to face life’s bumps and challenges,” says Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., M.F.T., a licensed family therapist in Westlake Village, Calif., and author of Pills Are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids (W.W. Norton & Company). Outdoor experiences also help children to develop an appreciation for the environment. For these reasons and more, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) recommends scheduling a “Green Hour” (greenhour .org) every day, offering ideas such as building outdoor forts and going on nature photography hikes. If you live in a safe area or have a backyard, you can also simply tell your child to go outside and play—and don’t come home till dinner (remember when your parents did that?). Or, if he’s interested in sports, sign him up for a team or lessons; it’s a great way to ensure he gets the daily hour of physical activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Volunteering with environmental groups like the Sierra Club (sierraclub.org/outings) or NWF (nwf.org/volunteer) or taking outdoor vacations—whether it’s a camping trip to a national park or an exotic tropical getaway— can also boost your child’s health, outlook and appreciation for the natural world.