It’s time to get our kids outside
Friday, February 24, 2012
If you are older than 30 and reading this article, it’s likely that you spent time outdoors in your neighborhood in carefree play as a child. But over the last three decades, things have changed. Today, children are more likely to be caught up in technological wonders and less likely to spend time alone or in groups finding wonders in nature. Although there are reasons for this shift, there are great benefits to be experienced by connecting, or reconnecting, our children to nature. Many national and local initiatives exist to foster young people’s connection to nature, including initiatives in our own community of Bedford.
According to reporter Jane E. Brody, of the New York Times, “Americans are suffering from an acute case of ‘outdoor deprivation disorder,’ a phrase coined by author Richard Louv in ‘The Last Child in the Woods.’”
Brody writes: “Children aged 8 to 18 today spend more time than ever using electronic media indoors – 71/2 hours a day, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation – and less time in outdoor unstructured activity.” Brody also states that the “lack of physical activity and a growing disconnect with the natural environment have been linked to obesity and obesity related diseases in children and adults, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, asthma and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as vitamin D deficiency, osteoporosis, stress, depression, attention deficit disorder and myopia.”
While the popularity of video games, television and computers have contributed to “outdoor deprivation,” there are other factors involved such as limited access to the outdoors, the fear of strangers and perceived outdoor safety risks, according to Marilyn Wyzga in her article “Leave No Child Inside.” She states that even though some parents fear that their children will be abducted by a stranger, statistics suggest that family members are responsible for most abductions, and the rate of abductions has been declining for a decade. In comparison to the 1970s, today’s children are safer outside their homes. Wyzga warns that although parents may think that the outdoors is risky, indoor living comes with its own risks of sedentary lifestyles, lack of connection to nature and community and lack of sociability.
Today, there are a number of national and local initiatives to help our kids develop a connection to the natural world. For example, National Wildlife Federation established the “Be Out There” public-education campaign to encourage unstructured outdoor play for children and interaction with nature. Its website, www.nwf.org, lists specific suggestions for schools and families to counter the physical, emotional and educational drain of an “indoor childhood.” On a local level, this spring Peter Woodbury School will construct an outdoor classroom to connect curriculum with hands-on knowledge of nature. The school uses the DIG program (Discover, Investigate and Grow) in first to third grade to connect kids to nature. This year, the same program was used in the first grade at Memorial School, and next year Riddle Brook School will incorporate it into curriculum.
In Bedford, families can reconnect with nature by venturing out to the green spaces protected by conservation easements held by the Bedford Land Trust. The majority of the nine easement areas offer walking trails. See the Trust’s website for more information: www.bedfordlandtrust.org. A list of public access trails is also available on the town’s website www.bedfordnh.org by clicking on the Parks & Recreation quick link. The list includes walking paths at: the Heritage Trail, Benedictine Park, Joppa Hill, Legacy Park, Pulpit Rock Conservation Area, the Van Loan Preserve, Muller Park and the Goad Trail.
While it’s important to foster a connection to nature in children for their own health and well-being, it’s also important to recognize that children that lack that connection will likely be uninterested in engaging in traditional outdoor activities such as fishing and camping and in protecting our natural resources. Our children will be the stewards of the land if we give them the gift of experience in nature – a connection to the wonder of nature. All we need to do is get out there with them!