By Ali Wetherbee
April vacation has ended and the kids are back in the classroom. With recesses getting shorter every year, your kids are probably starving for outdoor time (despite the fact that they seem unable to get off the couch and turn off the TV!) Kids today are outside half as much as kids 20 years ago, and the average child spends nearly 8 hours a day using media and electronics. Outdoor play is good for physical fitness, improves distance vision, boosts self-confidence, and reduces children’s stress levels. It also leads to better behavior, improved attention, and less aggression. In one study, 95% of students who went outside during the school day scored high on math and sciences standardized tests, while at schools where kids stayed inside all day, only 65% scored well. And according to a study by Wells and Lekies, “The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in ‘wild nature activities’ before the age of 11.” So when the kids get off the school bus, try to squeeze in a half hour of outdoor time. Here are a few ideas to get them outside and enjoying nature:
- Head to your favorite trail for a hike. If your kids are reluctant hikers, try handing them each a camera or binoculars, or print out a nature scavenger hunt.
- Walk along the beach collecting treasures. Spring is a great time of year to find special shells, sea glass, driftwood, and creatures, and the beaches aren’t crowded yet.
- Play a family game in your backyard — try soccer, baseball, badminton, or horseshoes.
- Take a picnic to the park. Bring along a favorite storybook or a sketchbook and colored pencils.
- Fly kites together.
- Go for a rain walk. The first drop of rain may discourage your plans to get the kids outside, but many of the best memories involve broken umbrellas, puddle stomping, and mixing mud soup.
With all this time spent outdoors, don’t forget the sunscreen. Summer is still a couple of months away but UV rays are present year-round, and more hours outside plus less clothing coverage equals a higher chance of sunburn. Both UVA and UVB rays are damaging to the skin and may lead not only to sunburn but also aged skin (wrinkles, sunspots) and skin cancer.
UVB rays are strongest from April to October, between the hours of 10am and 4pm. UVB rays penetrate only the top layer of skin, the epidermis, and trigger the production of melanin which leads to suntans and age spots or freckles. Too much UVB exposure can cause tough, leathery skin, wrinkles, and other visible signs of sun damage.
UVA rays are the same strength year round, which is why sunscreen is recommended daily, even in winter. UVA rays go deeper into your skin to the dermis, causing saggy skin, permanent red flush, and white or brown spots. UVA rays can pass through windows, windshields, hats, and light clothing.
Choose your sunscreen carefully
Most sunscreens contain a combination of several chemicals, usually oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These chemicals mimic hormones and are endocrine disruptors. Studies have found sunscreen chemicals to damage the reproductive system and interfere with development. They can delay puberty, reduce sperm production, increase the risk of endometriosis, stimulate hormone-driven tumors, and cause behavioral changes. If used while pregnant or nursing, they can lead to low birth weight and pass into breast milk. Some of these chemicals can also cause allergic skin reactions. Our sunscreens are rated a 1, a top rating, for safety and efficacy in Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database. They contain only zinc oxide – a physical sun barrier, which is considered the best protection against broad spectrum UV rays — and all natural ingredients.
There’s no need to avoid the outdoors to avoid the dangers of the sun, especially since outdoor time is so beneficial. To protect yourself and your family from sunburns and skin cancer, stay in the shade during the midday hours. Cover up with long sleeves, a wide-brim hat, and sunglasses. Apply an all-natural sunscreen that contains physical (not chemical) blockers every morning, even on cloudy days, and reapply every 2 hours when out in the sun.
Enjoy the great outdoors!