Outdoor Exploration and Play: An Essential Part of Children’s’ Health and Wellbeing
Nowadays it seems like fewer and fewer children experience the freeform outdoor exploration that many of us took for granted when we were young. True, there are real and perceived concerns about letting children play outside unsupervised as we did for hours and hours on end. There are also many more distractions for children than there used to be. If I was bored, it always seemed I only had three options – clean my room, do my homework or go outside and play. Rarely did I need to think more than several split seconds to make that decision.
A recent article on child obesity in the popular Parade magazine cites that by the time a child reaches his or her teenage years that child is spending approximately six hours a day glued to some kind of screen – TV, computer, Play Station or other electronic equipment. With the development of new, powerful and often exciting technologies, we are encouraging a whole generation of sedentary beings. Kids aren’t supposed to be sedentary – they are supposed to be exercising those gross motor skills by jumping (over streams), climbing (trees), running (through fields), skipping, playing tag and jumping rope. Some might also say that these indoor, electronic activities limit a child’s social contact thus fostering isolationism. Indeed, teachers see more and more children who do not play well together, are intolerant and inflexible and have a difficult time staying focused. Habits developed in childhood often become the essential fabric of our personalities and the more entrenched they get; the harder it becomes to alter these later in life.
So should we be concerned with this trend that is moving children away from nature? Does it really make that much difference? Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods (2005) notes that “a widening circle of researchers believes that the loss of natural habitat, or the disconnection from nature even when it is available, has enormous implications for human health and child development. They say the quality of exposure to nature affects our health at an almost cellular level.”
Not only could there be significant health implications for a generation of sedentary children, but without chances to discover and explore special spots in nature, there is also concern that children will grow up without a connection to the natural world. So what? Without direct connection to the systems and cycles that underwrite our very existence it will be hard to place meaningful value on it. And, without value…our parks, nature sanctuaries and open space may not have a place in our children’s future.
So what to do? It’s simple. Take a walk with your child at a local park or nature center. Wonder with them; don’t be afraid to get dirty. Participate in family nature classes or programs - learn together about all things natural. Enroll your child in nature-focused summer camps and vacation camps (see below) – support their interest!
- Dale Rosselet, Vice President for Education
New Jersey Audubon is a statewide, not-for-profit conservation organization with nine education centers and two programming sites. The organization engages over 40,000 children a year in nature-based programs from afterschool classes to weekend activities to vacation and summer camps. Click here to locate the center nearest you and to find out what programming they have coming up.
It may be winter, but it is never too early to begin thinking about summer camp! New Jersey Audubon is already gearing up for a fun and exciting 2010 summer camp season. All of our camps use inquiry-based learning techniques, and teacher-focused activities to encourage individual and small group discovery. No matter if they are in kindergarten or middle school, each camp participant leaves with a renewed interest in New Jersey’s native flora and fauna and all of the different habitats that can be found in our State.