Raising healthy kids
Today is Global Handwashing Day. Here’s how your kids can enjoy the great outdoors without you having to worry about dirt and germs.
WITH their sedentary lifestyles, children today are being deprived of fun in the sun.
First it was television. Then came the computer that offered endless games, YouTube, Facebook and more. And now there’s the smart phone, which not only provides telecommunication services but also serves as a mobile mini computer.
With such wonderful technology around, it is little wonder that children are not playing outdoors any more. What’s worse, parents are not encouraging their children to play outdoors.
“It’s a different world now. We worry about safety, traffic and environmental pollution when our children play outside,” admits Sara, a mother of two children aged two and seven years.
With more people leading urbanised lives, parents are also increasingly reluctant to let their children get dirty, worrying about the germs that they might come in contact with when playing outside.
“I don’t like my sons to get all hot and smelly playing in the hot sun,” says Juliani, mother to fouryear-old twins, Johan and Jamil. “But I don’t have a choice because
Playing outdoors exposes children to the sights, smells and textures around them. my husband is an outdoors person and he loves taking them with him.”
Yet outdoors play holds multiple benefits for growing children. It was not obvious in the beginning but the difference between Sara and Juliani’s children started to manifest itself when the children went to pre-school.
Sara’s children, who spent most of their lives in enclosed spaces, safe from the outside world, caught infections easily. They would get ill if they were caught in the rain or got too tired.
Johan and Jamil, on the other hand, were seldom ill or recovered fast every time they had a cough or cold. They had a good build and had little trouble eating or sleeping.
What Sara had not realised is that her over-protective nature had prevented her children from developing natural immunities in the hygienic conditions of her home.
Children need to sweat out excess energy, explain experts from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and Princeton Mathematica Policy Research, Inc, in New Jersey, the United States.
Research published in the Archives Of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 2005 showed that parents who often complained that their children were destructive and naughty in the house were usually pleasantly surprised to find that their children were better behaved after a day out.
This is because they will have “let off steam” by running or playing outside, and are able to sleep and eat better.
Getting more rest and a better diet contribute to the general health of children, making them more even-tempered. It also stops them from putting on excess weight and becoming a statistic for children with obesity.
Outdoor play is an important part of growing up, as it allows the body to reap Vitamin D from sunshine.
Vitamin D is a crucial element in the metabolism of calcium, which helps form healthy bones and teeth.
Calcium needs to be accumulated in the early years of life, as bone mass peaks at the age of 30. Having good calcium stores would help prevent osteoporosis and osteopenia in the golden years.
Frequent contact with pathogens in the environment helps children develop a natural immunity to them. This is why Juliani’s children have better immunity than Sara’s, although both sets of children lead urbanised lifestyles.
Books and the Internet may be wonderful resources, but nothing beats experiencing life first-hand. That’s where outdoors play is important to expose children to the sights, smells, textures and colours in anything and everything.
A study conducted by the University of Illinois and published in the August 2008 Journal Of Attention Disorders found that a 20-minute walk in the park can make a big difference in concentration levels in children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Syndrome (ADHD).
The researchers say the findings reinforce a previous study which shows a link between spending time with Nature and reduced ADHD effects.
Learning through play
Apart from that, the formative years are the most important for character-building. Being able to run in the park, climb trees, catch butterflies or roll on the sand helps children cultivate a sense of wonder, curiosity and courage.
Juliani says her children are not afraid to pick up worms and even keep spiders as pets.
She notes how outdoor play helped Johan and Jamil develop relationships and compassion.
She saw how they made friends at the playground or football field and was surprised when they brought back a stray cat for adoption one day.
“Being in constant contact with God’s other creations makes them more open to new adventures,” she says.
Like any other mother, Juliani also worries about germs and hygiene, especially when her boys are spending so much time outdoors. That’s where hygiene education comes into play.
“I tell them that they must always wash their hands after playing and to get a bath as soon as they come home from playing outside. No watching television, resting or dinner until they have cleaned up!” says Juliani, who packs hand-sanitising moist wipes for them every time they go out. The moist wipes come in handy at places where water and soap are not readily available.
Under doctor’s orders, Sara is now starting to encourage her children to play outdoors more and spend less time on the computer, television or smart phone.
“When I mentioned my concern about hygiene and catching germs, my doctor recommended alcohol-free sanitising moist wipes that are safe for use even for babies.
“They make a lot of difference as I can now let them enjoy the benefits of outdoor play without worrying about infections and dirt,” adds Sara. – Article courtesy of Kleenex®
A sense of wonder: