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EDITORIAL: Get outdoors, get some dirt on you

The current generation of parents is often accused of being overindulgent with their children, overprotective, of the helicopter variety and all that goes with that.

Kids’ activities and playtime are engineered in a world of highly structured recreational time. The term “bubble-wrapped” gets tossed about.

Refreshingly, and just in time, we’re hearing a bit of counter-advice from health and psychology experts: just let your kids go out and play. Let them figure out how to make up games or whatever fun activities on their own. Better yet, let them get dirty while they’re at it.

It’s almost as if Nova Scotia’s Department of Natural Resources had been in on that conversation. Fitting the bill nicely, the province has sent the offer of two free nights of camping at its provincial parks to Grade 4 students and their families.

Available through any of the 20 camping parks under the provincial network, the Grade 4s Outdoors Program was launched last spring. Students and families who decide to take them up on the offer receive a coupon for two free nights of camping plus a nature passport encouraging exploration of parks or other natural outdoor spaces.

If that’s just the incentive a family needs to get out to play and explore nature together, it’s a great gesture.

The program also seems to be aimed at a prime category. Children at the age of eight, nine, ten are pumped for adventure. They also have a firm grasp on that spark of imagination that eludes so many people – youths through adult – as they grow older and social expectations increasingly set out their agenda.

Learning to set up a tent, make a campfire, cooking, eating and cleaning up camp are all skills worth having, lessons that could well prove vital in later life.

But add to that the advice we’re hearing increasingly in a world and environment that is becoming more and more artificially controlled and sterile. As it turns out, children who grow up with pets in the family – and are thus exposed to a greater variety of germs – tend to have fewer allergies.

Ditto for playing in the dirt, or doing any number of activities that put us in touch with the earth. Apparently that experience generations ago of pulling a vegetable from the garden, brushing off the dirt and eating it was tonic in more ways than one. Turns out the observation that you’d eat a peck of dirt in your lifetime is a good thing.

The whole family would do themselves a favour to put the screen time on hold more often and just get outdoors, heed the call of the wild, explore and do stuff.

And camping – it’s an awfully fine way to get around and enjoy the natural beauty of the province.

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