If we’re reading a lot, we probably aren’t getting outside much…unless we’re swinging in a hammock or sprawled out on a big quilt on the grass in the spring or summer.So to balance the read-read-read indoor-oriented post that I just published, I wanted to offer some thoughts on another topic I feel strongly about.This past week I read an article in U.S. News & World Report by Adam Voiland entitled “Why Kids Need a Big Dose of Nature“. It’s an interview with Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods.I hope you’ve heard the research and concerns that our kids may be suffering from what Louv suggests is “Nature Deficit Disorder”? He isn’t suggesting that there is an actual diagnosis by that name, but instead coined that phrase to get our attention.Research suggests that kids ages 8-18 are spending on average 6.5 hours per day on electronics, and as a result are spending a lot of time inside. And when they’re outside, it’s often in an organized sport rather than enjoying free play or nature exploration. I know that this isn’t true across the board–in some situations, kids run around outside unsupervised without enough to do. But a lot of parents do find that one of the easiest ways to ensure that their kids are occupied and safe is to keep them inside.One response to this is an initiative from the National Wildlife Federation suggesting that families participate in “The Green Hour,” taking at least an hour per day to get kids outside and discover the wonder of nature:
The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids a “Green Hour” every day, a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world. This can take place in a garden, a backyard, the park down the street, or any place that provides safe and accessible green spaces where children can learn and play.
They cite some of the research coming out:
Children who regularly spend unstructured time outside:
Play more creatively Have lower stress levels Have more active imaginations Become fitter and leaner Develop stronger immune systems Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment
Another is “No Child Left Inside,” coined by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, attempting to “encourage Connecticut families and visitors alike to enjoy all the recreational resources and outdoor activities available in Connecticut’s state parks, forests and waterways…it’s time to discover the great outdoors!”I was also pleased to see some of the grass roots, real-life ideas like this homeschool mom who is hosting a “Green Hour” carnival at her blog–by making assignments that encourage families to get outside, she is jumping on this bandwagon of getting kids more time outdoors, interacting with nature, learning about it, and comfortable exploring, studying, thinking, digging, wading, climbing, and sledding. I like that she’s using technology (blogging), which is often thought of as the enemy of outdoor time, to encourage families to report back on their experiences.I’m thankful to report that my children are off at this very moment sledding. The Belgian Wonder is the earmuffed hero.We should be setting a good model as parents, getting outside ourselves. I happen to be in here at the moment with a pressing writing deadline–I’m taking a little break to compose these thoughts for you before getting back to my assignment. Most of the time, I love the inspiration from Rachel Carson. I first read this quote on the wall of a nature center in one of our city’s parks:
If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.
If you aren’t in the midst of the blizzard that is passing across the Midwest today, try getting outside for at least an hour. Point out little things that you notice–a nest high in a tree; a bird balanced on a telephone wire; a crocus popping up through the snow; a funny shaped cumulus cloud. Our Green Hour doesn’t have to be a super-involved hike in a national park, though that would certainly be lovely. We can just head out and walk through the neighborhood to a little pond to feed the ducks.In fact, we have a little pond nearby. I’ve written about an ice-chunk-oriented outing we enjoyed there a few weeks ago. The kids have loved interacting with the squirrels that scamper nearby when they take a blanket and lunch there.I found the following artwork in a cheap little frame at Goodwill and couldn’t put it down. I kept thinking about the story one of my daughters told of the ducks coming right up to her one day at the pond, practically to be fed by hand. People who interact with curiosity and respect for God’s creation tend to treat it with dignity and delight…and probably a sense of wonder.“Making Friends,” Yeend King