Wednesday, January 28, 2009
There is a growing epidemic among today's children. Television, video games and endless after-school activities are rapidly taking the place of spending time playing outside. And in today's culture of fear, many children's experiences with the out-of-doors only include supervised time on sterile playgrounds lined with gravel and populated with brightly colored plastic slides.
From an environmental standpoint, kids who are not exposed to nature are less likely to be interested in conserving energy, recycling, or other green issues. So an important part of the long-term solution to global warming is instilling environmental awareness and appreciation in the next generations. Our children will inherit a troubled planet. We need to equip them with love for it and the ability to be proactive in protecting it.
The future health of our planet is not the only thing to profit from kids spending more time outside. Studies show that children who spend time in nature experience lower rates of ADHD, better health, stronger motor skills and more creativity than kids who stay inside most of the time. As a result of such research, the United States House of Representatives passed the "No Child Left Inside" act last September in an effort to expand outdoor and environmental education in public schools. This is a great step, but we can do more.
What can we do in our own families? Wander the trails at one of Jackson's many natural areas. Get the whole family together for a mountain-biking expedition. Take your kids fishing. Volunteer to help coordinate planting a garden or creating a wildlife habitat at your child's school. Help your kids plant a vegetable and herb garden in your backyard. Go on a rock-hopping adventure to the creek at Rocky Springs. Let your older kids explore and play in unmanicured natural areassuch as the woods down the streeton their own equipped with a cell phone in case of emergencies. Plant a family tree in the front yard. Take your family on a camping trip to one of Mississippi's state parks. Bring neighbors, relatives and friends along for the ride.
One of the most important things you can do is share your own love for the outdoors; children learn from adult role models in their lives. Treat environmental awareness as something that is important for all people, not just children. Avoid causing fear about nature or about environmental issues. Focus instead on being proactive as a family to reduce, reuse and recycle as you enjoy nature's bounty together.
Clinton Community Nature Center
617 Dunton Road, Clinton, 601-926-1104
Milepost 122 off the Natchez Trace, http://www.nps.gov/natt
Mississippi Museum of Natural Science
2148 Riverside Drive, 601-354-7303
Mississippi Petrified Forest
124 Forest Park Road, 601-879-8189
"Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv
"Living Simply with Children" by Marie Sherlock
"Eco Kids" by Dan Chiras
A better way is to break down the barriers to getting kids outdoors and to communicate with kids in their modern language of technology. The current discussion about nature deficit disorder misses the point about kids today. Besides the Internet there is a lot of great new technology out there including outdoor products that makes it easier, safer and a lot more interesting to be outside. Kids love technical stuff. Is it really off limits to bring an iPod or to play your Gameboy DS Lite with your dad in the tent at night? How about the new Jetboil stove that is super light, easy to use and can cook a meal for four in 15 minutes or less so that you can get on to playing Animal Crossing on that DS or go Exploring with your Fozzils Flatware aquarium . All kids today were born after the advent of the Internet and most are simply wired differently than their parents. In fact technology is what they are interested in even more than “the outdoors”. One place looking at this point is the new web site www.kidsoutdoorsonline.com. There they talk "online" about What they did, Where they did it and How they did it (WWH) outdoors. Over time it will help break down the primary barriers to getting kids outdoors: lack of knowledge and lack of interest. – [email protected]
I am glad that Kelly brings this topic to our attention. I agree with her concerns and would add that kids and adults need to get out more and exercise more. I think Trails5's strategy is sound, but would add the following comment. Kids may or may not be wired differently today. Every day is made up of the sum of our choices from moment to moment. I think the interest in technology is simply the desire for agency. The internet and games are just other avenues of agency, activity and interaction. How kids "are" is largely up to their inclinations and what avenues are available to them. We can choose to limit access to games, tv and internet and the kids will hate it, but they won't hate you if you give them other avenues of activity, that is, PLAY WITH THEM. That said, if kids are already truly linked into the network/media/game, you will have to work with that reality if you want to engage them.
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