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School’s Out: The Great Outdoors Awaits

The school year wanes as summer arrives. “It’s time to get the kids outside to explore endless possibilities,” says Clark, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Nature is calling.

A young child’s connection with nature can be as simple as sitting under a tree, watching a bug or planting a seed. Spending time in nature has many positive benefits.

“Children who have opportunities to play and learn in nature are more likely to handle challenges and problems more capably and act responsibly toward the earth and each other. They are more physically active and aware of nutrition, and less likely to be obese,” Clark said.

Other benefits include having a greater appreciation of the arts, music, history and literature; choosing science or a related field for careers; and becoming better-informed and environmentally-aware adults.

“Children love to play, and can easily turn a twig into a toy or a mud puddle into a play area,” Clark said.

“Play is more than just fun and games — it is a key for children’s healthy development. In addition, play provides the foundation for learning and academic success, is critical for the development of creative problem-solving and imagination, and helps children learn how to interact with others,” Clark said. Play integrates all types of learning — physical, social, emotional and intellectual.

Play is freely chosen, self -directed and motivated by the child. Children can play anywhere and with anything, but the natural world is an especially inviting place for play. Children play to invent, explore and try different things. Open-ended play in natural settings or with natural objects enhances curiosity and triggers the imagination.

“Nature exists around you. Consider exploring insects, plants, trees and wildlife. Need more ideas? Look for ants, spiders, bugs, seeds, birds, fish, flowers and so much more,” Clark said. “Children love to watch things grow and move. Summer awaits — let’s go outside now!”

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