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Technology may help engage children in outdoor activities

When kids stop going out to play, it can affect not just their development, but society as a whole, according to a growing number of scientists. Consequently, Belgian health, education, environment, and civic organizations use technology to promote and support reconnecting children with nature. 

Children need nature

Respectable scientists – doctors, mental health experts, educationalists and sociologists are suggesting that everyday contact with nature is very important for their development and their maturing into healthy and social adults.

“In Flanders children of today feel the urbanization, the increase of traffic, and the disappearance of unused grounds and bushes in cities and even little villages. Finding green space where children can play and discover nature on their doorstep is no longer evident, ” said Katrijn Gijsel, Flemish Youth Support Centre.

Taking technology outdoors

There is no shortage of research pointing to increased use of technology leading to decreased physical activity. However, mobile apps and outside play don’t need to be at odds. The role of technology in supporting or enhancing children’s outdoor experiences may be vital.

Five partner organizations based in Limburg, the greenest province of Flanders, piloted a project introducing various tools to help families find nearby nature spaces.

The five partners include: the Province of Limburg, Flemish Youth Support Centre, the Flemish Nature and Forest Agency, Child and Community and the Flemish Forest Organization. The Flemish Government supports this project and provides the funding.

“In 2011 four communities in Limburg tested a number of tools and in the summer 2012 we saw the first implementation towards more green playing spaces and safe routes in the first pilot communities”, said Gijsel.

Technology dependent activities

The project leaders recognised this was a great opportunity to show how digital used in the right way can enrich children’s lives and developed tools to increase children’s engagement with nature.

Interactive Play Network Map

This is a type of mapping system based on Google Maps. It is very simple to use and it has its own online application for the local governments. The youth service as well as the technical service, green service or sport or tourism service of communities can put all play grounds, forest, sport accommodation, youth camping sites, fireplaces etc. into this map to get a grip on the existing ‘play network’ in their community.

“This can help to make a plan of action to improve the green play network and give children more possibilities to play outside but close to home, ” explained Gijsel.

Set of digital cards

The digital cards display a variety of natural environments where children can play. The cards contain well-chosen photos that are free for use.

“Too often the creation of new play grounds consists of no more than a set of expensive playground equipment, but it could be so much more, eg. diverse types of forest environments, water and sand play grounds, a playing orchard, a ‘mountain’ of building sand, etc.”, added Gijsel.

“A variety of community officers pointed out that well-chosen pictures really can make a difference when consulting with the town and city council representatives. It can help to make the mayor and the councilors understand what sort of playgrounds need to be created.”

Author: Marketa Vesela

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