Sunday, September 23, 2012

Go Outside and Play!

By: Judi Stuart
Port Discover - Visitor Services Manager

Go Outside and Play!

Not too many years ago, mothers frequently commanded their children to “Go outside and play! It’s a beautiful day.” It was both a defense and a blessing from a parent made weary from the chaos created by kids playing in the house.

September 24 begins “Take a Child Outside Week” in North Carolina, and is celebrated both nationally and internationally. Sometimes called “Leave No Child Inside Week,” the event is part of a movement that picked-up speed with the publication of the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv in 2005.

In 2008, Mr. Louv won the Audubon Medal for energizing “the national debate on the importance of connecting kids to nature.” Other recipients of that award have included Rachel Carson, Robert Redford, Jimmy Carter, and E. O. Wilson.

Perhaps Mr. Louv’s most startling proclamation is that he believes that we must start a movement to save our children from what he calls a “nature-deficit disorder.” He also suggests that many of the increases that we see in childhood obesity, attention difficulties, and even depression may be the result of an increasing lack of children’s direct contact with nature on a regular and frequent basis.

He writes that while our children’s worlds are “limitless in cyberspace” they are “shrinking in reality.” The world’s fixation on such fear of child endangerment caused by people, animals, and other things possibly lurking in the woods has had the effect of scaring kids right out of the woods and fields.

Studies have been done that prove that symptoms of attention-deficit disorder are reduced when the child spends more time engaging freely with nature. In addition, schools that use outdoor classrooms and other techniques to get kids outside seem to see improved test scores and an increase in the students’ ability to problem-solve.

Parents and teachers often sense the importance of children’s need to experience nature’s wonders, but they name many obstacles in the modern world that don’t support the effort. Lack of access to natural areas, too much homework, extra-curricular involvement, and competition from computers and television are some of the problems experienced when trying to get the kids outside.

Our area provides endless opportunities year-round for experiencing nature. We need only to take advantage of them, but it does take some effort on our part. Port Discover has developed a scavenger hunt to be completed in the Kid’s Grow Garden behind the center.

On October 20, 2012 from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm you can attend Dismal Day at the Dismal Swamp State Park and participate in a Family Fun Run/Walk. There will also be pontoon rides, creepy crawly critter crafts, and many other outdoor activities.

Use next week as your opportunity to start making spending time in nature with your family a permanent focus. As Mr. Louv asks, “if the disconnection between children and nature continues, who will become the future stewards of the earth...?”

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