A new government program is aimed at tempting children outdoors away from computer and television screens to help combat childhood obesity.

The Queensland Government has revealed plans for the ‘Nature Play’ initiative, aimed at increasing outdoor play to help decrease childhood obesity rates, which would see children granted a ‘passport’ full of nature-based ‘missions’.

Steve Dickson, Minister for National Parks, Recreation, Sport and Racing, says the scheme will increase the amount of time spent outside in unstructured play.

“We want Queensland children to shift from screen time to green time and to make playing outdoors and exploring our national parks and forests a bigger part of their lives,” says Dickson. “This delivers on our election promise to revitalise frontline services and increase Queensland children’s involvement in recreation and sport.

“That’s why I’m proud to announce $1.5 million over the next three years to help get Nature Play Qld off the ground in our state.”

The missions include scavenger hunts, climbing hills or making bushwalking sticks.

Dickson says unstructured outdoor play is fundamental to a full and healthy childhood.

“Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in Queensland and this is a fun and practical solution that gets the whole community involved,” he says. “By getting involved, children will experience benefits in health, cognitive, social and emotional development and boost confidence through physical activities.”

Dr Megan Gibson from the School of Early Childhood at Queensland University of Technology says that a program like Nature Play could provide an opportunity for children to engage in outdoor activities.

“For some, it may be just the impetus that they need to inspire physical activity,” she says. “The initiative has potential to shift people’s thinking – parents and children alike – and inspire a range of creative outdoor activities.”

Dr Gibson says the access children have to an increasing array of technologies is a mixed blessing.

“If used appropriately these devices have the potential to engage children’s thinking and open possibilities for new ways of learning,” she says. “But if children are spending large amounts of their waking hours engaged in sedentary activities, then there is a risk that this will impact on their health and well being.”

Executive Officer of outdoors group QORF Murray Stewart says Nature Play has significant capacity for community and cultural change.

“Nature Play Queensland is about creating a balance between screen time and green time with short term goals and long term consequences,” says Stewart. “QORF’s mandate is to develop the opportunity for outdoor recreation in Queensland and Nature Play will see Queensland kids given the encouragement and the resources to discover nature, and themselves.”

The Nature Play initiative has been successfully run in Western Australia since 2012 and will soon be rolled out in South Australia also.

Dickson says that Queensland is pioneering the scheme for the east coast states.

“The Newman Government is committed to getting more young Queenslanders involved in recreation and sport and we are delivering with programs such as this.”