I have a confession to make. I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I’d choose watching a movie over going on a bushwalk, or reading a book by the pool over going surfing. Unfortunately this appears to have been passed on to my kids who typically need to be dragged kicking and screaming to go to the beach ACROSS THE ROAD! Recently though, I became aware of the importance of getting kids outside and the vital role being in nature can have on a person’s health and wellbeing. Not only that, with the focus on eyes and vision in our household, I felt it my parental duty to do whatever I could to promote a lifestyle to my children that will help prevent them from getting myopia, or short sightedness.
A recent study showed that in Australia, 36% of our population is predicted to be myopic (short sighted) by 2020 and by 2050 that number is set to increase to 55%. This is absolutely frightening, especially since the development of myopia is largely influenced by our modern lifestyle (family history is also a risk). Low levels of outdoor activity, low levels of light exposure and prolonged near tasks such as reading, computer work and gaming are shown to be contributing to what some researchers are calling the ‘myopia epidemic’. Although both my kids, and myself, wear glasses, we’re actually all long-sighted (the opposite of myopia). That’s not to say we shouldn’t be aware of this issue and try to get outdoors as much as possible.
So, armed with this knowledge and fuelled by a huge amount of mother guilt, I booked my germaphobe kidlets into Forest School for a school holiday workshop.
When the kids found out about the plan – heading into an actual forest to make a campfire, bake damper and brew hot chocolate – let’s just say I was not the favourite parent. There was whingeing, whining and death stares galore. For days. “What do you mean we have to go into a forest?” “Why are you doing this to us?” “Whaaaaaaat! There will be LEECHES! Are you kidding me!?” Yep, I was looking forward to this activity.
Dressed in our best outdoor clothes – gumboots, long pants, long sleeve shirt, hats – and sprayed from head to toe in insect repellent we made our way to Wildlings Forest School at Nambour on the Sunshine Coast. It was a stunning day, clear blue skies with a light breeze. The ‘beware of snakes’ talk at the start was a great introduction for my urban offspring but they stomped (heavily) into the forest. It was a parent drop off thing but my kids insisted I stay – in order to perform regular leech inspections and to throw myself between them and the snakes.
The stick swing Dane played on for about half an hour. Good, simple fun.
The forest was beautiful. There was a running creek, the sounds of birds and the rustling of leaves in the trees. And no snakes. Or leeches. Thank goodness.
The lovely creek running through the forest.
Despite their initial reluctance (or should I say horror), the kids actually had a fantastic time. They learned to use a fire striker and light cotton balls on fire. They learnt how to make damper – and actually got their hands dirty! They fed a Kelly Kettle fire to boil water. And they swung on rustic, kid-made branch swings with trees surrounding them. No screens. No books (yes, this is a problem in our house). And no moaning. For three whole hours!
For my daughter to eat something that was on a real life, unclean stick was HUGE. I can only assume that she was starving.
I’ll admit my two were the cleanest children that emerged from that forest. They watched in horror and awe as other kids threw themselves into muddy puddles and plunged into the icy cold creek. Getting them to go down the mudslide was just too much of an ask – “You mean people actually slide in the mud. In their clothes. For fun?” But they had smiles on their faces and admitted to enjoying their outdoor adventure.
And just in case Mr Kids Eye Gear is reading this, YES I did take out Dane's contact lens as soon as we got home to give it a thorough clean.
So in the interests of healthy eyes, minds and bodies I’ll be trying to find other outdoor activities for my kids. It was great fun and they actually enjoyed it. I wonder how they’ll feel about camping. Maybe that’s taking it too far.
Source : The findings were published in The Australia and NZ Child Myopia Report – A Focus on Future Management, launched by the Australia and NZ Child Myopia Working Group.