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Photo by Christine Hall

Raising outdoor children in an indoor world

It is said that “play is the work of childhood.” If you were lucky enough to be raised in Savannah, chances are much of that play was spent outdoors. From the city’s iconic squares to its coastal marshes and beach, the Hostess City is brimming with opportunities for outdoor adventure. 

So why are today’s children spending more time indoors than ever before? A recent study by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children ages 8-18 spent as much as 7.5 hours a day on electronic entertainment. In the last four years, even children 8 and under have tripled the amount of time they spend on screens.  

As a mom of three, I know the struggle is real. Utter the word Fortnite in earshot of parents anywhere in the Coastal Empire, and it will draw the same chorus of groans and frustration. This notably addictive video game is only one of many devices keeping our children plugged in.

Photo by Christine Hall

 With so much emphasis placed on social media, YouTube, video games and television, today’s culture seems primed to create a generation of indoor junkies. Is it too late for parents to cultivate that same passion for the outdoors that we enjoyed in our own childhoods?  

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), parents should strive for their children to get a minimum 60 minutes of physical activity a day — ideally outside, and no more than one or two hours total screen time (including TV, computer, video games and phones). 

Outdoor play is important for improving motor skills, developing healthy bones, improving sleep and reducing anxiety. Studies have also found exposure to nature boosts creativity, improves test scores and can even reduce ADHD symptoms.

Still, for many parents, the problem is twofold — more exposure to a variety of screens at younger age and a feeling of increased apprehension about allowing their children to play outside unsupervised.

“There is a societal expectation of increased supervision that encourages parents to feel overprotective,” says Dr. Kristy Duke of Savannah Behavioral Pediatrics. “But there’s no evidence of increased danger in today’s society versus when we were growing up.”   

Dr. Duke notes that statistics show no increase in either accident-related injuries or the likelihood of child abduction. She also encourages incorporating as much free play as possible into a child’s outdoor hours. While sports and other structured activities may get children out in the fresh air, there is no replacement for imaginative free time. 

“Unstructured outdoor activity is where problem-solving and creative thinking are learned,” says Dr. Duke. “Think back to your own childhood. If parents can highlight what we as children found fascinating about nature, then our children will see it that way too.”

Sometimes it can be as simple as leaving the cell phones home while you take a bike ride or pulling out the garden hose on a hot summer day. In a place like Savannah, the choices are endless.

Skidaway Island State Park is one of many popular venues where families can get outside and explore the city’s natural beauty. This hiking path along part of Georgia’s Intracoastal Waterway offers family friendly trails that wind through maritime forests and past the salt marsh leading to a boardwalk and observation tower. 

Other local favorites like Forsyth Park allow everyone to get outside. The city’s most famous park is more than just its beloved fountain. Nestled under the mossy oaks, it also has the area’s first all accessible playground. Donated by the Rotary Club of Savannah, this large shaded playground structure can accommodate children in wheelchairs and with other specialized conditions.  

For younger children, a parent’s passion can rub off and result in “parallel play.” In my own family, most weekends you will find three generations fishing on the Skidaway River. From the Intracoastal Waterway to popular watering holes like Lake Mayer and Tom Triplet Park, Savannah can be a fisherman’s paradise for any child.

Still, even with all the Hostess City has to offer, many parents confess to feeling it is too late to change their child’s behavior — especially when children already have their own cell phone or iPad (and the resulting unfettered internet access).   

“It’s never too late to make changes to your child’s habits,” says Dr. Kevin Winders of Savannah Psychiatry. “Parents can expect significant resistance in the beginning, but with persistence, it will lessen.” 

Clear expectations are key. Mom, Dad and child should all be on the same page in order to make long-term changes. 

Dr. Winders also recommends having a plan and leading by example. It is hard to set limits on devices if parents don’t abide by any themselves.

Small steps like charging all devices in the parents’ room and installing timer apps can reduce the inevitable argument over how long is too long. The AAP also recommends creating “tech-free zones” like the dinner table and car, and never using technology as an emotional pacifier to keep children calm or quiet.  

“The most important thing is for parents to realize they have a bigger impact on their child’s behavior than they may think,” says Dr. Winders.

With boundaries in place and a little trial and error, it is possible to balance digital and outdoor play. The more time children spend outside, the more they will grow to appreciate it. It’s a case in which the sky really is the limit.

Photo by Christine Hall

Get outside

Forsyth Park Savannah Playground

The two Forsyth Park playgrounds include a spray pool and a paved sidewalk. The park also features basketball and tennis courts. 700 Drayton St., Savannah, 31401

Mother Mathilda Beasley Park

The park features two playgrounds with new equipment, large grass-covered field, a baseball field, multi-purpose trail, dog park and picnic tables. 500 East Broad St., Savannah, 31401

Davant Park

Nestled behind behind Colonial Park Cemetery in downtown Savannah, this small playground includes picnic tables. Lincoln Street / East Perry Lane, Savannah, 31401

Baldwin Park 

Enjoy a small fenced playground in a residential area. East 41st St. / Atlantic Avenue, Savannah, 31401

Daffin Park 

The centrally located park includes two playgrounds, a lake, a walking trail, picnic area, tennis courts and fields. 1500 E. Victory Drive, Savannah, 31404

JHull Park 

 A great, popular neighborhood playground, Hull’s merry-go-round makes it perfect for playdates. 55th Street / Atlantic Avenue, Savannah, 31405

Lake Mayer

There is plenty to explore with a playground, picnic tables, tennis courts, lighted basketball courts, a 1.5-mile paved trail with a fitness course, a lake, boat ramps, restrooms, baseball field and dog exercise area. 1850 E. Montgomery Cross Road, Savannah, 31406

Isle of Hope

Kids can enjoy a playground and basketball court. Cornus Drive, Savannah, 31406

Wilmington Island playground

The shaded playground is situated alongside a covered pavilion and restrooms. 

Cohen Avenue at Walthour Road, Savannah, 31410

Memorial Park Playground 

Find Memorial Park Playground behind Tybee Isand Library and discover a fenced playground, covered picnic area, faux pirate ship, see-saw whale rocker, climbing wall, swings and restrooms. 405 Butler Ave., Tybee Island, 31328

Jaycee Park Playground

Within walking distance to the beach, Jaycee Park features a fenced playground. 27 Van Horne Ave., Tybee Island, 31328

Scott Stell Playground

There’s plenty to do with a playground, lighted basketball courts, paved trail for jogging and biking, a fitness course, baseball fields, dog exercise area, volleyball play areas and an archery range. 383 Bush Road, Savannah, 31419

J.F. Gregory Park, Richmond Hill

Richmond Hill’s park features a fenced playground, picnic tables, restrooms, covered pavilions that are available for rent, and a 335-acre multi-use recreational area with a lake, walking trail, birding tower and two restored Henry Ford era homes. 521 Cedar St., Richmond Hill, 31324

Tom Triplett Park, Pooler

Pooler’s park includes a playground, two pavilions that are available for rent, a conference room available for rent, tennis courts, lake, 1.5-mile jogging and bike track with a fitness course, restrooms, dog exercise area and disc golf course. Tom Triplett Road, Pooler, 31322

West Chatham YMCA playground

Chatham County’s first ADA play facility features a music station, a tractor, a climbing wall and therapeutic swings for special-needs kids. Off Pooler Parkway between the YMCA and Pooler’s new municipal recreation complex

Savannah Children’s Museum

Savannah Children’s Museum offers daily programs. Outdoor activities such as arts and crafts, story time and water play are offered for children of all ages. Call ahead for hours and admission fees. 655 Louisville Rd., Savannah, 31401

Georgia State Railroad Museum

Explore historic railroad structures and see locomotives, rolling stock and interpretive displays. Occasional train rides are also available. 601 W. Harris St., Savannah, 31401

Oatland Island Wildlife Center

Follow a nature trail through Lowcountry forest and marsh to see Georgia’s local animals and plants in their own habitats. Activities include Toddler Tuesday every Tuesday morning, which features stories, games, songs, crafts and animal visitors. 711 Sandtown Road, Savannah, 31410

Tybee Island Marine Science Center

Features include a touch tank, turtle exhibit, coral reef and gift shop. Guided beach walks, marsh treks, turtle talks and group programs are also offered. 1510 Strand Ave., Tybee Island

Fort Pulaski National Monument

See the Civil War-era fort that once guarded Savannah. Features include trails, demilune, drawbridges, ditches and dikes. Guided tours, musket and soldier demonstrations and cannon-firing demonstrations are offered. Special programs and demonstrations are held on various holiday weekends. 

U.S. 80 East, Savannah, 31410

Old Fort Jackson

Explore one of only eight second system fortifications still standing in the United States. Features include cannon firing demonstrations and more. 1 Fort Jackson Road, Savannah, 31404

Skidaway Island State Park

Enjoy playgrounds, hiking trails, picnic shelters and free nature programs for kids. Children can see the towering, 20-foot giant ground sloth replica and reptile room in the Interpretive Center. 52 Diamond Causeway, Savannah, 31411

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