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Farm life for kids sets the stage for a healthy life

To follow up on my previous post, at least in the summer I am pretty sure “the good old days” were rarely spent inside. This is one of many reasons that growing up on a farm has long been heralded as one of the best ways to spend childhood. Farm life offers the fairly unique opportunity to work and play outdoors with family members on an almost daily basis with a giant “park” right outside your door.

Now, any parent knows that it is not always the easiest option to get their children to go outdoors. Today’s clever television shows, electronic games and gadgets galore and the frosty appeal of air conditioning on a hot summer day are quite inviting for both adults and children. A quick push of the remote control button can keep children entertained for hours with minimal parental stress. It is an easy (and often valuable) fix for busy parents with restless summer children, but there is simply no substitute for time spent outdoors.

And I am certainly not the only one who feels this way. There is a mountain of research on the subject that confirms what every farm kid (or former farm kid) already knows. I came across a website from the Children and Nature Network that compiled research findings related to the importance of children spending time outdoors in relation to mental, physical and other benefits. Here are a few of the findings highlighted in the 46-page document:

• Access to nature nurtures self-discipline

• Outdoor experience for teens has self-reported life changing results

• Children benefit from appropriate risk-taking during outdoor play

• Preschool children experiencing a weekly outdoor lesson have improved self-efficacy and early literary skills

• An outdoor program enhances children’s well-being, physical activity, and feelings of health, safety and satisfaction

• Play in natural environments improves kindergarten children’s motor abilities

• Many U.S. children are Vitamin D deficient and this deficiency is associated with cardiovascular risk factors

• Adolescents’ local environments influence their physical activity and food consumption

• Children in greener neighborhoods have lower body weight changes

• Older children who spend more time outside tend to be more physically active and are less likely to be overweight

• Children who play more outside and watch less TV have lower BMIs

• Natural settings provide psychological benefits.

OK, you get the picture and anyone who grew up on, or around, a farm learned all of this first hand. Maybe that is why so many parents involved in agriculture put forth such a tremendous effort to make sure their children spend summers outdoors whenever possible. From showing animals and other 4-H projects to working side-by-side with family members on a hay wagon, there really is nothing quite like childhood on a farm.

So bring on the sunscreen, the Band-Aids and showers with the barn hose because, while there can be a million dollars worth of research on the importance of the outdoors, the quality of Ohio farm children (and the adults they eventually become) is all of the evidence I really need.

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