Project Nature is in the news! Click here to read Drs Pooja Tandoon and Kyle Yasuda’s OpEd in the Seattle Times. Op Ed, reprinted below.
Kids today spend less time outside than any previous generation. That’s probably not a surprise — we live in a world filled with big screens, small screens, screens that attach to your wrist and screens that attach to your face. When combined with factors like busy lifestyles, shrinking access to natural spaces and parks, schools cutting opportunities for outdoor play, and neighborhoods that may not feel safe, it’s no wonder most children fall well short of the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of outdoor play.
As parents, we understand why that can feel like an impossibly high bar. But it’s a bar worth clearing. Outdoor play is correlated with physical activity, improved motor skills, better vision and vitamin D levels — health benefits that have made outdoor play, especially in natural surroundings, a focus for programs like the University of Washington EarthLab, which brings together researchers and practitioners to further understand the impacts of nature on human health.
But systemic changes can be years in the making, so what can well-meaning but busy parents do now?
Step One: Remember you’re not alone — We can’t do it all. And that’s OK! Most parents are juggling busy lives and competing priorities. The majority of children under 5 spend considerable time in the care of someone other than their parents. And of course, school-age children likely spend more waking hours at school than at home.
That means we need help from all our child’s caregivers to create the outdoor time they need to stay healthy.
And that idea brings us to step two.
Step Two: Ask the right questions — Chances are, you haven’t discussed your child’s outdoor time with their other caregivers. A study conducted at the University of Washington in 2016 showed that more than half of parents don’t know how much time their preschooler spends playing outside in child care.
At the same time, educators report pressure to prioritize academics over outdoor play. In fact, only two-thirds of Washington child-care centers report meeting the daily recommendation of 60 minutes of outdoor time, despite research showing that 87 percent of preschoolers’ parents agree outdoor playtime is an important learning activity.
This disconnect is a problem. You can take the first step toward improving your child’s health by asking about and advocating for outdoor and active play opportunities with your child’s teachers and caregivers. Furthermore, explore outdoor or nature-based after-school programs, or community programs and summer camps that offer outdoor experiences.
Step Three: Make the most of your time — Maybe you can’t get all the outdoor time with your child that you’d like, but what you’re lacking in quantity, you can make up for in quality. If you want to get the most out of your time outdoors with your kids, nothing beats nature. Time in nature is associated with improved focus, reduced stress and other health benefits.
Getting into nature doesn’t mean summiting Mount Rainier with a 6-year-old in tow. Resources like BestStart Washington’s Project Nature can point you to local nature parks, hikes and other activities that will keep your family connected with the natural world close to home. If your time is limited, make a goal to take a 10-minute walk a few times a week with your child somewhere you enjoy. It’ll be good for you too!
Yes, in the Pacific Northwest, getting outdoors will mean braving the elements. But with some warm rain gear and a little peer pressure from scheduling outdoor activities with friends, you’ll find it’s actually pretty easy to stay active during the rainy winter months.
Like building any habit, spending time outdoors doesn’t happen by accident. Advocate for your child’s outdoor time. Approach physical activity and time in nature with the same level of priority and care you dedicate to other aspects of caring for your children.
And don’t worry about getting a little soggy — that’s half the fun!
Pooja S. Tandon, MD FAAP is a pediatrician and researcher at Seattle Children’s Hospital, assistant professor at the University of Washington, and active member of UW’s Nature for Health initiative, which brings together researchers and practitioners to further understand the impacts of nature on human health.
Kyle Yasuda, MD FAAP is the 2018 president-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and co-founder of BestStart Washington. BestStart Washington collaborates with community pediatricians, families and other partners to develop and fund innovative programs that give children the best possible start on healthy and productive lives.
Living in Washington State, we are lucky to have endless miles of coastline in thanks to the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea is the inland sea that encompasses Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the waters off of Vancouver, BC. Spanning from Olympia in the south to the Campbell River, British Columbia in the north, and west towards Neah Bay.
These beautiful coastlines contain thousands of sea creatures from Mussels to Orcas, Starfish, Northern Clingfish to the infamous GeoDuck. Grab a bucket, rain boots and your camera along with an adventurous spirit and head out to discover PNW sea creatures. Make sure to check the tide tables before heading out in order to find the best tide pools.
This fish hangs onto the underside of rocks with a suction cup on its belly. The suction cup is incredibly strong and can lift more than three hundred times the fish’s weight. This strength helps the fish stay on their rock during rough waves. Northern clingfish also have a secret power–they can breathe air.
Beachcombers are certain to find shore crabs along the beach, especially when the tide goes out. Crabs breathe through gills and are covered in exoskeletons. Crabs grow new exoskeletons and leaves their old ones on the beach.
These two shelled creatures (or bivalve mollusks) attach themselves to rocks with hundreds of threads of special glue. This glue is stretchy which allows them to move back and forth with the ocean’s waves. Mussels can be found all over rocks in tide pools and under piers on the beach alongside barnacles.
The Geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”) is of no relation to an actual duck. They are the biggest clam on the beach and can live for more than 150 years. Weighing in at up to 8 pounds, the Geoduck digs under the mud, with its siphon stretched up to the surface for seawater.
These creatures can usually be found in patches on rocks, creating a carpet like appearance. They reproduce by either sending eggs and sperm into the water or cloning themselves by splitting in two. Most anemones are green due to the algae living inside them.
This prickly creature moves along on tube feet and can rub at a rock with its teeth and spines to create a hollowed out hideout. Finding one of these on the beach is a good sign of clean water as sea urchins are the first to suffer from polluted water.
The sea star uses the water’s motion to move around the beach. During low tide, they cling to rocks with their hundreds of tube feet. Leave them alone if you find them clinging to a rock as they suction on extremely tight and can painfully leave their feet behind if ripped off a rock.
Spotting an orca pod is an unforgettable sight! These large mammals travel in large groups and consume lots of salmon. They spend their summers in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington where they bulk up with lots of fresh seafood.
Great Blue Herons
These impressive birds can stand as tall as three feet with a six-foot wingspan. Their croak sounds like an inexperienced saxophone player. They can be spotted standing in the water, waiting to catch a fish and nest in trees in large colonies of up to 500 birds.
Spending time outside increases our physical activity, which has corresponding positive benefits for our health. One study found that a part of our brain that plays key role in depression is less active when participants spent time walking in an outdoor natural setting.
Benefits of time spent in nature extend beyond each of us individually and are seen in schools and neighborhoods when green space is created and utilized. School programs that structure specific outdoor time have shown to increase attentiveness and improve social interactions among students, leading to better academic performance and happier kids.
So what is it that prevents us from spending more time outside? There are many potential barriers to get in the way, and they vary between families and neighborhoods. Barriers can be related to space (distance, safety), time (work, school, other responsibilities) and distractions (screens, social media). We’ll take a closer a look at common barriers in a future post and offer some insights on how to overcome them. In the meantime, particularly during the sometimes hectic, stressful holiday season, think of ways to get yourself and your family outside more, set an achievable goal, and then do it.
Julian Ayer, MD, FAAP, is on staff at Pediatrics Northwest in his hometown of Tacoma. He joined the Board of Directors of BestStart Washington in 2012. An active member of the Board of the Washington Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Ayer earned his bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University in Spokane and his MD at Rush Medical College in Chicago. He completed his pediatric residency at the University of Wisconsin. His community service includes volunteering at the Trinity Neighborhood Health Clinic serving underserved residents of Tacoma, and he has participated on an advisory committee to support Bridges, a family grief support center for local children. Dr. Ayer also co-founded the University of Wisconsin Chapter of PRIDE (Pediatricians Recognizing Individuals Demonstrating Excellence) to recognize outstanding youth in area schools. Read Dr. Ayer’s CV.