Research proves that unobstructed outdoor play is critical to a child’s development, and yet today’s kids, regardless of geographic region, spend 90 percent of their time indoors.

Wilderness Youth Project provides an antidote to this dilemma, offering more than a dozen after-school outdoor play options this fall.

Most classes begin Aug. 29 and meet weekly for eight weeks at many meetup spots throughout Santa Barbara, Goleta and Ojai.

WYP is currently enrolling students, grades K-8, in its Chickadees, Grasshoppers and Young Eagles programs as well as a special 16-week Forest Preschool, an outdoor-focused learning environment for children aged 3-5 years old.

Each week WYP programs explore resource-rich locations such as the creeks, beaches and open spaces in Santa Barbara’s abundant front country.

Activities include child-centered exploration, awareness games and the building of naturalist skills. WYP uses a nature-based mentoring curriculum that combines experience in nature with a hands-on learning process.

“At Wilderness Youth, we recognize the benefits of building forts, chasing frogs and skimming rocks,” said Erika Lindemann, associate director. “Children’s direct and regular experience of the natural world is an essential, irreplaceable dimension of healthy maturation and development. Yet, today kids spend more time in front of their screens than they do interacting with the natural world, having negative implications for their physical fitness as well as their emotional, mental and spiritual well being.”

WYP engages children with nature, and in doing so, improves their overall health. In short, kids become smarter, happier and healthier.

WYP programs are staffed by trained naturalists who specialize in early childhood development. Programs are intentionally limited to 12 children to maintain quality and a strong relationship between staff and students.

WYP has been operating programs in the south coast region of Santa Barbara for the past 17 years.

To register, make a donation or learn more about volunteering with WYP, visit wyp.org.

Ann Pieramici is a public relations consultant representing Wilderness Youth Project.