Keira Sen, 9, and her mother Cassie started their own NSW ROCKS group after seeing other groups pop up around the country. Photo: Wolter PeetersWhen Cassie Sen saw children in her local area spending more time on screens than swings, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
She and her nine-year-old daughter Keira foundedNSW ROCKS, a local chapter of an international movement which involves finding rocks, decorating them and then depositing them in local parks for others to discover.
The only screen element involved is a Facebook group where members divulge where their coloured stones have been “rock dropped”.
Part craft, part treasure hunt, the trend started in the US last year before spreading across the Pacific where Australian participants number more than 35,000.
“It’s something so simple but it puts smiles on people’s faces,” Ms Sen said.
“A lot of kids in the Campbelltown area where we live don’t get to spend a lot of time in parks, they don’t get out and about in nature as much as I did when I was a kid. This is an activity which gets kids outside and the sheer joy on their faces when they find something so bright and colourful is priceless.”
Ms Sen describes the activity as a “low tech” Pokemon Go with an imaginative twist.
“It’s so much better than Pokemon Go because you can make your own creations,” she said.
“The craft element is part of the appeal. It really ticks a lot of boxes. It’s creative, it’s physical and there is a treasure hunt.The bigger it gets, the more the community gets involved so there is a social aspect as well.”
Louise Hardy, a senior research fellow with the Prevention Research Collaboration at the University of Sydney said activities which require children to enjoy the outdoors should be encouraged.
“It’s a fad but it’s a good fad,” Dr Hardy said.
“Everyone got excited about Pokemon Go which was being hailed as a way to get kids to be more active but the problem was that the kids were still sticking their nose in a screen, they weren’t engaging with their surroundings.
“Hunting for coloured rocks in a park is a much better way to explore. It’s environmentally friendly. It’s not like those fidget spinners that just go into landfill as soon as the child gets bored.”
Dr Hardy is on the executive of committee of Active Healthy Kids Australia, an alliance of health experts who found concerning levels of sedentary behaviour among children in areportreleased last year.
Laura McFarland, a lecturer in education at Charles Sturt University, said the communal nature of decorating and depositing rocks could build stronger family bonds.
“When children engage with nature and spend time outdoors, their physical health and mental wellbeing benefits,” she said.
“Spending time outdoors as a family had the added benefit of strengthening the parent-child relationship.
“Technology-based strategies to get kids outside, such as Pokemon Go, can be useful, but they need to be used in a balanced way as too much screen time, particularly in very young children, can disrupt concentration and sleep.”
TheAustralian Child Health Poll, released by the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne on Wednesday, found the majority of Australian children, exceed the national recommended guidelines for screen time, with two-thirds of primary school children and one-third of preschoolers owning their own tablet or smartphone.