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10 ways to get your kids outside and away from the screens

It's another thing to worry about, right? Kids and their screens - television, tablet, phone, computer - all of them. I know I'm not telling you something you didn't already know. As a mom of four girls, I watch and worry. I talk about my days growing up on 17th Street in the Falls when I'd play outside all day, come in only when the the lights came on. They've heard it a million times, the memories are wonderful and I love sharing them.

I want my kids to have similar memories, so I work to make sure they are outside playing and learning. I want them to get dirty, I don't mind the grass stains and muddy butts. In fact, I love it.

There is a real panic lately, though. In fact, the national panic about children spending way too much time indoors has become so worrisome that it has a name: Nature deficit disorder. True story. And yes, calling it a disorder might be more rhetorical than anything else, but it's clear kids spend more time inside than outside.

I read an article that said children spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. Scary, right? So what do you do? I don't have all the answers, I'm just here with a reminder and a few suggestions.  Here are 10 ideas to help get the kids outside and having fun! They work with my kids so I thought I'd pass them along.

Be nature detectives. Scavenger hunts are so much fun and kids get a kick out of finding everything on the list. This is great for kids of any age. Even my 2-year-old can help find things, giggling the entire time.

Enjoy simple pleasures. Sometimes the simplest outdoor activities can leave the best memories.  You know, skip a stone, search for flowers, catch frogs. It's true that we need to stop and smell the roses - and so do our kids.

Get crafty. Gather up some seeds, pine cones and rocks and make a craft out of them. We love finding pine cones and painting them different colors. They make beautiful displays on the tables. All of the tables.

Magnify the fun. My 5-year-old is obsessed with magnifying glasses. I guess she loves looking at the world in a different way. From bugs to buds - bigger can be better.

Rock out. Make a rock garden. Collect rocks of all shapes and sizes and paint them or just wash them off and put them all together. You can always rearrange the rock garden so the fun never ends.

Take the indoors out. Taking toys that kids play with inside outdoors can encourage them to play and explore with them in new ways. Blocks, dolls, puzzles and books are all open to a world of new possibilities when taken outdoors. And you don't worry so much about paint, markers or play dough getting on things when you're outside.

Just about anything you do inside, you can do outside. (Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News)

Make it a family affair. Whether it's an evening walk together or getting your kids to help wash the car, being outdoors yourself is a great way to encourage children to be there, too. It's good for everyone.

Park it. My kids would spend all day every day at the park if they could. There are so many wonderful playgrounds and parks around, you can visit different ones all the time. This is a great way to get them running around a bit, too.

Nature is beautiful and so good for our kids. (Mary Friona-Celani/Special to The News)

Go to a nature preserve. My kids love hiking and laughing our way through Tifft Nature Preserve (1200 Fuhrmann Blvd). This really is nature at its finest. They have miles of nature trails, a gorgeous lake, boardwalks and more. It makes for a fun-filled few hours and helps zap some of that never-ending energy these kids seem to have.

When all else fails - just add water. Oh, you just can't go wrong. My girls love playing with water. As a sensory activity it aids brain development, but kids don't need to know that - they just like to splash, pour, stir, and get wet. We've had an awful lot of tea parties outside.

From more vitamin D to much needed physical exercise, to balance and coordination - the benefits of kids playing outside are clear and they're real. There's nothing better than fresh air and sunshine (with sunblock of course) on your face. The kids might moan and groan about going outside, but once they get out, they'll have a ball. Which, by the way - they can also play outside.

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