Compared to just a few decades ago, children today spend significantly less time outdoors than we did as kids. Over a third of American families report that their child spends less than 30 minutes outdoors each day. There are many reasons for this ó both parents working outside the home and the (false) perception that our kids are not safe outdoors by themselves, so we allow them to be inside on screens. Itís not just a coincidence that childhood obesity is also increasing at an alarming rate, just as outdoor exercise decreases significantly. Itís not only harmful for the kids themselves, but to society. If a child does not learn to love and appreciate the outdoors, they have no desire or incentive to protect it. There is no incentive to stop destructive fracking or block proposed legislation to sell off some national park lands (yes, itís been proposed) if you havenít learned to love and care for the outdoors. As a side note, if you want to read an excellent book about the culture of fear and overprotection that we live in, as far as parenting, pick up a copy of Lenore Skenazyís ďFree Range Parenting.Ē
There are things that every family can do to encourage your kidsí passion and love for the outdoors. Here are a few:
Join a 4-H or scouting troop: Interview leaders before you join or ask to see a past calendar or curriculum to make sure that they are planning activities outdoors. If they have lots of outdoors activities planned, give it a try. And 4-H is not just for farmers. They do many other things. There are also newer scout organizations such as Baden-Powell, which are inclusive for all boys and girls, all religions, all abilities.
Role model and encourage: Get outdoors yourself or as a family. Encourage outdoors time, which unstructured play time. Organized sports are healthy of course, but kids need unstructured time to explore, learn and grow. If you have die-hard Ďgamersí in your house, you may need extra force and coercion in the beginning. But as kids, how many times were we tossed outside for the day?
National Park Junior Ranger program: I wrote about this extensively just last week so you can go back to see more details. But collecting those Junior Ranger badges is exciting for kids and teaches appreciation, protection and conservation.
Create a wildlife habitat: This is easier than it sounds and you donít need a whole lot of land to do it. You can even certify an outdoor patio or rooftop deck. Go to the National Wildlife Federation for details and to get started. You probably are already doing a few of the necessary items.
Create a garden together: Food comes from the earth, but in todayís big box stores and supermarkets itís easy to forget that. Pick your items together and make sure you pick a few easy ones for guaranteed success if itís your first garden. When children see their harvest and make the connection of how important the Earth is to us, they develop a greater appreciation.
Hopefully this gives you a few ideas if your kids arenít outside enough. As always, you can e-mail me at LisaLightner@yahoo.com.
Outdoor enthusiast Lisa Lightner lives in Avondale.