May 21, 2013

Get Outside & Play!

Did you know June is Great Outdoors Month?

Here’s something I just found on my old blog, written in June, 2009! Things have changed since then. My son is now 12 and for the last few years it’s been nearly impossible to get him inside when the weather is nice. ~ Lynn

My 2nd grader will be home from school soon. It’s a beautiful day and I am anticipating my daily challenge of getting him outdoors.

Up until the last year and a half, he was perfectly content to play outside. Even by himself (he’s our only child). With certain friends, imagination led them to dig, play with trucks, dig some more, play hide and seek or tag. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve gotten bored faster out there, climbing the occasional tree before badgering me every 15 minutes with, “Have we been out here long enough yet?” The good news is they’re not begging to watch TV or play video games. They just want to play in the sea of LEGO that is Ethan’s room.

Hold on. The bus just dropped Ethan off. I will try to catch him on video for his reaction to playing outside today…

[wpvideo MowKybC4]

Is it me, or did it seem like I was trying to capture a comment from a corrupt politician?

When I was Ethan’s age, we were carefree and just played outside. Even in the winter when it was 20 below we stayed out until our fingers and toes were numb. It was the thing to do. And we had fun, darn it! Granted, I wasn’t an only child, but I wasn’t always playing with my brothers, either. I could play outside with my Barbies or pretend I was Agent 99 from Get Smart . My parents would have to call to us in more than once—finally resorting to yelling—before we’d go inside.

Today’s children are the first generation ever to grow up isolated from nature–outdoor time for kids has decreased by more than 50 percent.

And, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, kids spend, on average, more than six hours per day with electronic media (more recent data says seven hours!). This trend has galvanized groups like the No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI) and American Recreation Coalition. The National Wildlife Foundation’s Green Hour Campaign gives parents and caregivers the information, tools, and inspiration to get their kids—and themselves—outside.

On Earth Day 2009, historic legislation was introduced to the Senate: No Child Left Inside Act. If passed, this act would have marked the first environmental education legislation to pass Congress in more than 25 years.

“Environmental education must be a part of the formal pre-K-12 education system if we are to fully prepare students to become lifelong stewards of our ncompete in a green economy,” Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) said.

The bill died. But several states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and Wisconsin, endorsed the movement by creating programs in local parks and schools that addressed the concern of children’s disconnect with nature.

Kids are having a hard time even playing neighborhood pick-up games because they’ve never done it, observes Barbara Carlson, president and cofounder of Putting Families First. “They’ve been told by their coaches where on the field to stand, told by their parents what color socks to wear, told by the referees who’s won and what’s fair. Kids are losing leadership skills. ~ Psychology Today

I decided I needed to get to the bottom of why playing outside had become more of a chore for Ethan. It took a few dollars, but he finally agreed to a formal interview. Here it is, starting with the question of why, now that he’s “older”, he seems to get bored outside at a much faster rate.

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Many children are involved with sports, which certainly help get the kids outside. But sports are not Ethan’s thing. He likes to say, “I was born to play LEGO and cook.” Ethan did recently show an interest in basketball, so we bought him a basketball hoop. Every day for the first week all he wanted to do was play hoops. By himself, with others, it didn’t matter. But the novelty has worn off.

I think my challenge is a bit trickier because I have an only child. I’m not going to let that be my excuse. I, together with my husband, have to put forth a little extra effort and, well, use our imagination. Not only because I’m an “eco mom,” but because outdoor play offers many benefits:

  • >> Daily unstructured free play improves children’s physical and mental health
  • >> Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative, less aggressive and show better concentration
  • >> Outdoor experiences and education enhances children’s ability to learn and retain knowledge
  • >> Outdoor experiences build a conservation ethic and concern for the natural world.

So off with the shoes and into the grass. Watch out for the ant hills!

What are some ways you get your kids playing outside?

Adapted from my blog, I Count for myEARTH.

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Lynn J. Broderick  |  Contribution: 36,680