If your children are like most kids, they are spending more time indoors than ever before. A 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study found that children ages 8 to 18 engage in over seven hours of electronic media each day.
Some experts warn that all that time indoors can take a heavy toll on children’s health, contributing to attention difficulties, hyperactivity, obesity, a diminished use of senses and even a disconnect from the real world.
“American children are losing a vital aspect of healthy development as they spend less time riding bikes, climbing trees or doing much of anything outdoors,” says Kathy McGlauflin, Director of Project Learning Tree (PLT), a non-profit organization that trains teachers to incorporate environmental education into school curricula. “Today, children spend most of their time indoors -- largely because that’s where all the electrical sockets are.”
According to McGlauflin, teaching children to understand and value nature is vital to raising the next generation of environmental stewards and even to improve children’s performance at school.
Here are some fun ways to cure nature deficit disorder:
• Brainstorm with your children’s teachers and principal about ways the school can incorporate learning in the outdoors and provide a healthier environment for students and staff that promotes ecological sustainability, reduces waste and teaches students to be environmental stewards. For ideas, visit www.greenschools.org.
• Have your child help sort the recycling at home. Visit the recycling center to see how it all works.
• Talk to your child’s teacher about applying for a Project Learning Tree GreenWorks! grant to help get started on building a school or community garden, starting a recycling program or restoring a nearby stream. Since 1992, PLT has distributed nearly $1 million to fund 1,000 environmental service-learning projects in communities nationwide. Apply by September 30 by visiting www.plt.org/ApplyForaGrant.
• Encourage your child to adopt a local tree and get familiar with it. Revisit this tree on a regular basis throughout the seasons, recording observations in a journal.
• Take a walk through a local wooded area, park or even your own backyard. Observe wildlife and plant life, paying special attention to fallen logs to learn how decomposition works and get a better understanding of microhabitats. Look for signs of animals including insects and plants in, on or around the log.
• Go for a bike ride around your neighborhood for exercise, quality time, and some fresh air.
• Plant a garden together to improve your family’s nutrition and create something meaningful. You’ll diversify your meals with fresh local produce and teach your child about the life cycle of plants. Choose flowers that will attract an array of hummingbirds and butterflies to admire.
More tips can be found at www.plt.org.
Getting children outside is an important aspect of child development and can contribute to student achievement and a healthy lifestyle. This school year, be sure your child takes some time off from television, video games and the internet to explore the great outdoors.