Article by Mark Yearwood, giving us the scoop on what to do in Toronto to help our kids connect with nature.
Where did you play as a kid? You probably spent most of your time playing outside in fresh air and nature. But look around your neighbourhood. What you see likely won’t remind you of your childhood, when your parents probably said you had to be home by the time the streetlights come on. While it’s true that many kids are very active today, they just aren’t outside. Most physical activity for children today is confined to indoor spaces like arenas for hockey, soccer or lacrosse, or gyms for martial arts, gymnastics or dance. All good things for children to participate in, but there is something different and unique – perhaps even magical – about playing in nature. It’s a great answer for what to do in Toronto for some family fun.
Unstructured – and, dare I say it – unsupervised, time spent playing in nature can transform a childhood experience. The joy and wonder of exploring the neighbourhood creek, or a nearby wooded lot should be an essential part of play for all children. This is not just play for play’s sake. There is a growing body of scholarly research that has linked a lack of play in natural spaces within child and youth populations to increases in diabetes, depression, obesity, poor academic performance,
attention difficulties, as well as aggression and stress. Collectively, these negative outcomes have been referred to by the best-selling author Richard Louv, in his book Last Child in the Woods, as “Nature-Deficit Disorder”. The research calls for one prescription: regular time spent playing in nature!
Why Aren’t More Kids Outside?
In addition to improved physical fitness and well-being, nature-play makes for kids with strong and resilient character and self-discipline, as they develop an awareness about environmental issues hiking along the forest trails. There is also solid evidence that nature-play can reduce stress, boost cognitive functioning and even improve the concentration of children living with attention-deficits. So with all of this good stuff to be had outside in nature, why aren’t more kids out there?
With children spending more and more time with technology, blue screens cradled in their palms, glowing on their young, nature-deprived faces, our electronic media focused lives are certainly a contributing factor in the lack of outdoor play.
But there is another reason lurking in the back of many parents’ minds: fear.
What to do in Toronto for Safe Adventures
There are legitimate and reasonable concerns that parents may have when their children are playing out-of-sight, but the reality is that adventures in nature are remarkably safe. And one of the reasons I created Kids In the Woods Initiative—K.I.W.I., a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting children to nature, is to provide safe and fun adventures in wild, natural green spaces.
If you’re wondering what to do in Toronto to get your kids playing outside, start simple. Take your kids into the woods and watch as they marvels at things the may have only seen in the deluge of media they tread daily. Allow them to make decisions in unfamiliar territory, even some that may not work out, and see them learn that they can adapt and recover their footing on this earth. Simply allow them to see that there is just so much more than they ever knew.
Mark Yearwood is the Founder and Executive Director of Kids In the Woods Initiative—K.I.W.I., a nonprofit organization dedicated to reconnecting children to nature through adventure-play and mentoring in Toronto’s Rouge Park. Connect with K.I.W.I. at www.kidsinthewoodsinitiative.org, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by calling 647-875-8952.