With term four about to end this week, students across Australia will be gearing up for a very hot five weeks of school holidays.
While the usual beach cricket, camping, bush walks and barbecues are classic Aussie activities for children and families to enjoy, health experts warn parents to keep their kids indoors this summer to avoid poor air quality as a result of bushfire smoke.
According to Dr John Van der Kellen, “children are particularly affected” as their lungs are still developing, and an outdoor family holiday should only go ahead if the travel destination isn’t affected by the fires.
“I think if people can go to places where the pollutant is not so bad for holidays and things, it’s not a bad way to go,” the member of Doctors for the Environment, Australia, told HuffPost Australia.
Bushfires have affected areas of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, with Sydney and surrounding areas of NSW particularly damaged in the blazes.
For those who are staying put these school holidays, here are some alternative activities that escape the smoke and still keep the kids entertained and active.
An activity suitable for all of the family, tenpin bowling is a good option for day and evening sessions.
It keeps the kids on their toes and right away from the smoke in usually air-conditioned venues.
A spokesperson for Strike Bowling told HuffPost Australia that its air conditioned facilities keep patrons away from the outdoor air.
“Our Strike venues are fully air conditioned with filters and most are contained within shopping centres and not open to any elements minimising exposure to the outdoors,” said the rep.
Strike Bowling is also in Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia, while Zone Bowling is also in ACT, Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania.
When the kids can’t enjoy the usual bouncing in the backyard, why not take them to an indoor trampolining facility that’s overseen by staff supervisors and offers various trampolines for different levels.
Sky Zone in Alexandria is popular for Sydneysiders, as is the Sky High Indoor Trampoline Park in Chullora.
There is also Bounce in Victoria and Queensland, as well as a Sky Zone in Macgregor, Brisbane.
“Our Sky Zone venues, being that they are in very large warehouse settings are not air conditioned but they do have large Jet Fans and misters to help with air quality,” a spokesperson for the company told HuffPost Australia.
“On smokey days our procedure in Sky Zone is to pull down our roller doors, turn on all fans and misters to ensure exposure to the outdoors is minimised.”
The sky’s the limit for this activity without the bother of being outdoors. Kids get suited up and briefed by an instructor before they step into a tunnel and experience for a unique simulated free-fall experience.
iFly Indoor Skydiving is popular at its various venues across Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and Gold Coast, and strives to keep external air out.
“iFLY is the perfect activity for any weather,“Luke Edwards, General Manager at iFLY Brisbane, told HuffPost Australia.
“We use chillers to regulate tunnel temperature and ensure no external air comes in. No matter what the outdoor conditions are, iFLY is the perfect activity that will get your adrenaline pumping!”
Indoor Swimming Pools
Swap a family beach trip on a hot summer’s day with a visit to an indoor pool.
Children and adults can still splash about to cool off without worrying about the poor air quality.
Many swimming facilities will have school holiday entry deals, so enquire with your local pool about options.
Shopping Centre Indoor Play Area
This keeps everyone in the family happy as parents can get some retail therapy done, before sitting down for a coffee and watching their kids play.
Indoor retail complexes usually blast their air conditioning systems to filter out external particles, and this is yet another option that keeps the kids active.
How Are Kids Are Impacted By Bushfire Smoke?
According to Dr Van der Kallen, “children are particularly affected” by the poor air quality. Air particles can cause sore eyes, nose and throat for many kids, and irritate the respiratory system in more serious cases.
“Their lungs are still growing and their bodies are still growing, so it can impair their lung development so they would never get the adequate lung growth that a child not exposed to those pollutants would have,” said the Newcastle-based rheumatologist.
Public health physician, Dr Kate Charlesworth, also explained that children “have higher respiratory rates” where “they breathe faster and deeper”, and because their organ systems are still developing, “they’re more susceptible” to the health impacts of air pollution.
“Bushfire smoke is made up of water vapour and gases and particulate matter. What we’re really concerned about now is really small particles, particulate matter 2.5 and smaller,” she said.
“They’re the ones now that we understand can get right down into your lungs and actually can get into your bloodstream and cause these sorts of inflammatory throughout the body.”
Children under the age of four and those with asthma are more at risk of respiratory issues, however Dr Van der Kallen said “we’re seeing new cases of asthma in people and children who have never had it before, so this is a big concern”.
“A lot of the large particles from fires will deposit more in the upper airways which means that the trachea is then irritated by those pollutants, causing the asthma,” he explained.
Both health experts, who are members of Doctors for the Environment, Australia, said short term impacts of bushfire smoke exposure also affect children.
“Stinging eyes, throat irritation, runny nose, bronchitis, shortness of breath, wheezing – all of those things. They are more immediate health impacts,” explained Dr Charlesworth.