This past weekend was full of beautiful autumn days that were perfect for playing outside: The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the brightly coloured leaves were falling to the ground. We had planned a family day trip to a nearby provincial park so we could go hiking together, but all my kids wanted to do was stay inside and watch TV. Of course, we loaded eight-year-old Isaac and five-year-old Gillian into the car and went to the park despite their protests because, in my books, nature beats the couch any day.
It amazes me how difficult it is sometimes to get my own nature-loving kids outside. Truthfully, I’ve noticed that their reluctance to play outside is often linked to how much time they spend inside and in front of a screen. This weekend, Isaac had just reached a new level on his favourite video game and wanted to keep playing, and a new season of Gillian’s favourite TV show was available on demand. Both of these were served up as reasons why they didn’t want to go on a family hike yesterday. So when I heard that Kids’ CBC was going to debut a TV show that encourages kids to get in touch with nature, I was skeptical. In my experience, screen time begets more screen time. This new show, Scout & The Gumboot Kids, would need to bring its A-game to get my kids to play outside.
Created by Tara Hungerford and Eric Hogan—and endorsed by the David Suzuki Foundation and UCLA’s Global Media Center for Social Impact—the four-minute program stars Scout, a charming mouse that takes kids outdoors to solve “nature mysteries.” Geared towards kids ages four to six, the show is a combination of live action and animation and encourages kids to be mindful when they’re playing. Wanting to learn more, I asked Hungerford and Hogan what inspired them to create the series and how they saw mindfulness fitting into screen time.
“We wanted to create a show that reminds children and their parents that, no matter where we live, if we step outside, the wonders of nature are all around us,” says Hungerford, adding that she and her husband were inspired by raising their own two small kids in the city.
“Technology is an integral part of our lives,” says Hogan. “However, our goal was to create a show that bridges the family room and the outdoors. Going outside with your children doesn’t mean going for an epic two-hour hike. Scout & The Gumboot Kids shows families that you can reap the benefits of nature by simply being present outside, even for just 10 minutes.”
It was the mindfulness aspect that intrigued me because my own kids rarely sit down—let alone sit down and be mindful—when they’re exploring the great outdoors. Hogan and Hungerford designed each episode to include a mindful moment, asking kids to think about their surroundings.
“Mindfulness has been linked to well-being and optimism and is related to lower rates of depression and anxiety,” explains Hogan. “There’s a lot of solid research into this, and parents and teachers are starting to catch on to its benefits for children.” Hungerford adds that mindfulness is a great teaching tool for encouraging kids to connect with nature.
After watching a few episodes of Scout & The Gumboot Kids, I asked Isaac and Gillian if the show made them want to go outside. They shrugged their shoulders and asked to watch another episode (and I was happy to oblige because the show is educational and absolutely adorable). However, I noticed that the next time they went outside—on the epic two-hour hike I dragged them out of the house for this weekend—they walked a little more slowly, there was less chatter, and the leaves and small stones they collected along the way were held more gently. I’m not ready to give TV all the credit for the change in their behaviour, but if a few minutes of screen time can get my kids to slow down and take in their surroundings, I’m willing to let them spend a little bit more time with Scout.
Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences of giving up her big-city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.