Leave No Child Inside: Parents: Time to grab your child’s hand and get outside

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, in concert with the national Leave No Child Inside campaign, is committed to ensuring the children of this region will grow up with a strong connection to nature, and, as a result, be healthier and motivated to become its caring stewards. This column is one of a bi-weekly series contributed by Four Rivers Environmental Coalition members to raise public awareness of the importance of access to nature for healthy childhood development, and to encourage families to explore our member organizations’ wondrous places and programs, such as camping, learning projects, and programs for schoolchildren. Visit www.fourriver.org.

By Tina Dawson

Boone County Conservation District

Who would disagree that spending time outside is beneficial to a child’s physical and mental health? Not many of us. In fact, according to Rhonda Clements, a professor at Manhattanville College, 84 percent of parents feel it is important for their children to spend time outdoors; yet 69 percent say their children spend less time outdoors than they did.

Instead, our children are plugged in, hooked up and tuned in to an electronic world that is barraging them with constant images and sounds. Gone are the days of staying out until dark and coming home with skinned elbows, mud-caked knees and a head full of untold adventures.

How many of us had a box tucked under our bed where we kept hidden our collection of outdoor treasures? Things like butterfly wings, pretty feathers and shiny rocks. Didn’t everyone have a fort hidden in the woods when they were 10?

When did skipping rocks across the water become a lost art? Why would we rather have our children watch movies in the car instead of watch for birds outside the window? Where did we lose that connection to the world around us?

Evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson theorizes that because humans evolved in the natural world, we are hardwired to be engaged with it and ignoring our natural affinity for nature increases anxiety and stress. A study by the University of Illinois published in the American Journal of Public Health indicates children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) who participate in outdoor activities experience a significant decrease in symptoms.

We do our children a disservice when we don’t allow them to engage with the natural world; to experience firsthand the wonders and mysteries of nature. We can’t shelter our children from every misfortune, providing for them a constant stream of entertainment. How will they learn to entertain themselves, rely on their own skills to solve a problem, or enjoy the restorative effects of feeling the sun on their faces?

According to a Boys & Girls Club survey, 43 percent of kids want their parents to spend more time outdoors with them. So maybe the lost connection is us, the adults; the last children in the woods who have forgotten that which was so magical to us when we were growing up.

I challenge you to kick your kids out the door and see what happens, or at the very least, share the magic. Put down the anti-bacterial soap, grab your child’s hand and get outside…oh, and don’t even think about bringing your cell phone.

From the November 25-December 1, 2009 issue

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