'I would do this every day': Kids get hands dirty at pop-up playground
International conference explores how to get children more connected to nature
Aidan Coleman jumps off a short log onto a wide mound of soft dirt. He springs back onto his feet and runs back for a second turn.
His hands are completely covered in dirt.
"I would do this every day," said the nine-year-old. "[But] my mom — she'll make me wash."
Coleman is one of dozens of children enjoying the pop-up playground at Devonian Park. Complete with logs, hay bales, and even slack lines, the low-cost playground is a side attraction held by Children and Nature Network International Conference — an annual event that examines ways to get children more engaged with the great outdoors.
According to the event's organizers, the health benefits of outdoor play can be significant.
Connecting to nature
"In the last couple of generations, childhood has moved indoors," said Children and Nature Network director Laura Mylan.
"Kids around the world spend as much as 90 per cent of their time inside today, often in front of screens — and that has profound implications for children's health."
Data from Statistics Canada indicates that children who spend more time outdoors tend to have fewer problems with peers. Several studies also suggest that increased outdoor activities can also reduce symptoms of ADHD.
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"When kids play outside, they problem solve differently — they develop great social emotional skills. They work collaboratively. They engage all of their senses," she said. "It makes them healthier, happier and smarter."
Tips for parents
Mylan says it's going to take a concerted effort from parents, educators, and government to encourage outdoor activities for children.
As a parent, she admits the task can be daunting.
"It's hard to find the balance," she said. "[But] it can be as simple as taking a walk with the dog, sitting in the backyard and looking at the stars, or digging in a mud puddle looking for worms — it doesn't have to be the big epic camping adventure."
In turn, she says community events like pop-up parks are relatively low cost, but go a long way toward promoting outdoor play.
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A pop-up playground will be donated and permanently installed at the Norgate Community School in North Vancouver at the end of the conference.