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1. Connecting Kids with NatureToday’s A Policy Action Plan
Connecting Today’s Kids with Nature A Policy Action Plan May 2008 Written by Heather White, Esq., Director of Education Advocacy © 2008 by the National Wildlife Federation. All rights reserved. Larry J. Schweiger President and Chief Executive Officer National Wildlife Federation Acknowledgments We especially thank Kevin Coyle, Eliza Russell, Allen Cooper, Patrick Fitzgearld, Julie Gustafson and Bethe Almeras for their many valuable contributions. Special thanks to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and the founder of theChildren and Nature Network (www.cnnaturenet.org), an excellent resource for research andstrategies on connecting children to nature, and the more than 200 organizations involved inthe “No Child Left Inside ” coalition, www.nclicoalition.org, that have been advocating for ™ federal funding for environmental education and promoting environmental literacy. Cover and back cover images by NWF/Charlie Archambault. Graphic design by Sarah Ornstein, DesignS By Sarah firstname.lastname@example.org NATIONAL WILDLIFE FEDERATION 11100 Wildlife Center Drive Reston, VA 20190 703-438-6000 www.nwf.org
Message from the President i Looking out of my home-office window, I can see down a long forested valley across North Park to a far-away place appropriately called “wildwood” where nine decades ago, Rachel Carson and her mother Maria roamed the Pine Creek bottoms, explored rock outcrops and woodlands, listened to birds, and discovered spring wildflowers and insects. Those hours in the fields of western Pennsylvania profoundly influenced one of the 20th century’s greatest women by fostering a rich sense of wonder and profound love of nature. Perhaps reflecting on her wildwood walks with her mother, Rachel wrote later in life, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”©Schweiger NWF President & CEO Larry Schweiger holding his Rachel would be deeply saddened by what has happened to the traditional grandson, Thadeus. connection between Americans and the outdoors, something that is markedly different from anything in our past. The evidence is everywhere. The average child today spends more than six hours a day watching TV, playing video games, or operating a computer. Meanwhile, the amount of time U.S. children now spend outdoors has declined by 50% in the past 20 years. An important connection between being outdoors and caring for nature is being broken, and it greatly concerns me. Children who fish, camp and spend time in the wild before age 11 are much more likely to grow up to be environmentally committed as adults, according to Cornell University researchers. It was for me. As a child, I spent many hours outdoors with my father, who was a dog trainer and hunter. He died more than 30 years ago, yet when I go to the woods and smell a familiar plant or hear a distant crow on a crisp fall day, my memories of being with Dad come flooding back in rich detail, as if it were yesterday. In those moments I can hear his voice clearly and I can see his ruddy face in the golden light of an early morning sun. I cherish those memories. Although many environmental advocates speak of early experiences in nature that formed their connection, people of all professions often talk fondly of childhood experiences outdoors. Most adult Americans had a childhood where they could “go outside and play,” four little words rarely heard today. What will become of wild places if children know little of the mystery, the grace, the interconnectedness of all living things? How will we address global warming and other environmental threats if we do not engage and prepare the next generation for these monumental ©NWF/Charlie Archambault. challenges? We only save what we love and we only love what we know. Exploring nature in your own backyard.
As one of the largest conservation organizations in the country, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is committed toi helping children “rediscover the joy, the excitement, and the mystery” of our world. With over 70 years of experience inspiring and fostering a connection with nature and wildlife, NWF continues to lead the way. Our award-winning Ranger Rick™ magazine has sparked curiosity about nature and wildlife in generations of ©Schweiger children. Every month it delivers engaging stories, wildlife NWF has more than 70 years of experience images, and ideas for fun outdoor activities. In response to inspiring and fostering a connection between children and nature. increasing demand for age appropriate magazines about animals for younger children, NWF also offers Your Big Backyard™ for families with children 3-8 years old and Wild Animal Baby™ for families with children 12 months to 3 years old. With tens of thousands of Certified Wildlife Habitats and Schoolyard Habitats , our wildlife ™ ® gardening programs help individuals and families attract birds, butterflies and other local wildlife to backyards across the country. A more recent addition to the suite of fun family outdoor activities is NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout™, which is connecting families, neighborhoods and entire communities through camping, by sharing campfire stories and eating s’mores. To encourage parents and caregivers to make time for children to “go outside and play,” NWF launched Green Hour, www.nwf.org/kidsoutside, a source of information and inspiration to create daily free time outside for children. NWF and our partners are also working to engage policymakers on the local, state, and national level by: • Advocating for increased funding and opportunities for environmental education, a proven strategy to enhance a child’s connection to the outdoors, improve academic performance, and heighten interest in science and math; • Calling upon our public health agencies to promote and educate parents on the importance of outdoor play for our children’s well-being; and • Increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation by promoting better community design for kid- friendly natural play areas and green spaces for children to grow and to connect. We can’t do this alone. With your help, we can make sure America’s children carry with them a strong connection to nature. These are the memories they will carry with them fondly for a lifetime. You may even discover that you helped the next Rachel Carson find her wildwood. Larry Schweiger, President & CEO of the National Wildlife Federation
ii Today’s Reality ©ShutterStock A Parent’s Perspective As I walked through the hallway of my daughter’s elementary school, memories of my own school days came flooding back. For years, my day began by securing books to my bike rack and riding through the neighborhood to school which was only a few blocks away. It is only now that I understand how deep an impact my time riding bikes, playing in the woods, and exploring the neighborhood stream had on my development as a person. As I learn more about the health benefits associated with spending unstructured Exploring nature can provide key bonding time in the outdoors, I am even more convinced of the importance of adding time chances for parent and child. Jaime outdoors—a Green Hour®—to our family routine. Berman Matyas with her two daughters. Outdoor physical activity is good for our lungs, growing bones and our hearts – in a multitude of ways. For me, playing outside opened my heart up to a love of nature, a sense of stewardship and responsibility for other living creatures. I came to understand the interconnectedness of the natural world in a very personal way. As a parent, it is now my responsibility to foster this sense of wonder and stewardship in my children. Providing them experiences in the outdoors is an important way to pass along these values. And I believe that doing so with friends and other families is a great way to have fun and create meaningful relationships.©Matyas Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e Like most parents, I feel forever challenged by time. Ensuring teeth get brushed twice a day, three mealsiv are eaten and homework completed is a daily challenge. Yet as I think about my commitment as a parent to raising healthy children with self- confidence and strong values, I believe there is much more to being a good parent than managing these daily routines. Over the past few years I’ve made a concerted effort to integrate outdoor activities as part of our family’s daily regimen. Now, our favorite setting for relaxed family time is outdoors, not in front of a television. Whether it’s a Saturday morning hike, planting our garden, or lying in the backyard playing the cloud game, the outdoors has provided an ideal setting for my family to tune out other influences and connect with each other and our environment. There’s always ©Matyas something for us to explore and discover together. Simple activities like swinging can be a scheduled activity for today’s kids. When discussing outdoor exploration, a consistent concern raised by other parents is safety. The “I can’t let my kids play outside alone” dilemma. I’ve thought a lot about this. While concerns about unsupervised play outdoors are real, encountering stranger danger is much more likely amongst children surfing the Internet than riding bikes through the neighborhood. While some parents may no longer feel comfortable allowing their children the same freedom to explore the outdoors alone and unsupervised, there are many other ways to connect kids with nature: through community and volunteer projects; scheduled but unstructured group activities; school activities; and family outings. Getting unplugged and outside is good for adults too! There’s more that can be done at school, too. Given the importance of unstructured time outdoors to our children’s overall development and well-being, we should expect a portion of the school day to be dedicated to outdoor and nature education. Unfortunately, with current constraints on schools, there is less time for recess and physical activity in school settings. And yet, the research continues to tell us of the positive relationship between academic performance and creativity and unstructured outdoor play and exploration. As members of the school community, we can help improve our local education system by getting involved. We can help remove barriers to connecting children and the natural world. More physical activity is also believed to have a positive influence on a suite of health issues facing society today, such as obesity, ADHD, and diabetes.©Matyas Enjoying a quiet moment with family can be a treat for today’s Unfortunately, the current trend in many school busy families. systems is to reduce time for PE, recess and field Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg
A Policy Action Plan trips. As parents, we have the power to make a positive v difference in our children’s education. We can get involved at a local level by volunteering to help create a schoolyard habitat, hosting outdoor school events, or speaking out for the importance of funding hands-on environmental education. We can also make a meaningful difference at the state and national levels by advocating for improvements to current education policy and funding to support more time outdoors and more environmental education. Both will better prepare our ©Matyas children for the future. The pure childhood joy of playing should not be taken for granted but seen as a value for all American children to experience. As a mother and conservationist, I understand the importance of creating opportunities for my children to have time to connect with nature. Healthy children and healthy families need time together in the out-of-doors. We must share responsibility for reversing the concerning trend of children getting less unstructured time outdoors and becoming disconnected with nature. To raise healthy children and future generations that have a concern for the natural world, we must take action now. Make a family commitment to spend regular time out-of-doors – a family Green Hour® – volunteer to lead outdoor programs at a local school, and advocate at the local state or federal level for more funding and policy support for children to have outdoor education. As my girls re-tell stories of our campouts, their berry picking adventures or the interesting creatures they found under a rotting log on a recent walk through the woods, I smile as I know that these activities will forever have an impact on who they are and the kind of adults they will become. Jaime Berman Matyas Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer National Wildlife FederationIns p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
Connecting Today’s Kids with Nature A Policy Action Plan Table of Contents Message from the President ..........................................................................................i Today’s Reality ..............................................................................................................iii Summary ........................................................................................................................1 Understanding Our Children’s Nature Deficit ..........................................................7 Nature Deficit Defined Why We Keep Our Kids Indoors What is at Stake? Solutions to Reverse Nature Deficit and Connect Our Children to Nature ........15 Connect Kids to Nature through Environmental Education Promote Outdoor Play through our Public Health Systems Increase Opportunities for Outdoor Play through Better Design and Access Encourage Parents to Build in Time for Outdoor Play through a National Media and Educational Campaign What You Can Do ........................................................................................................20 Take Action in Your Community Take Action in Your State Take Action at the National Level Endnotes ........................................................................................................................25©NWF/Charlie Archambault.
1 Summary ©NWF/Charlie Archambault.“Go outside and play.” Most of us rememberhearing those four little words throughout our childhood. It is not possible for usto imagine childhood without powerful memories of climbing trees, exploring theneighborhood, or just watching the clouds.Yet recent research shows that children are spending half as much time outside asthey did 20 years ago. Today’s kids spend six and a half hours a day “pluggedinto” electronic media. In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louvdescribed this American trend. He gave this alarming problem a powerful name. “If a child is to keep alive hisToday’s kids suffer from a “nature deficit.” inborn sense of wonder, heThere are many contributors to nature deficit. Often parents’ fear of strangers needs the companionshipkeeps kids indoors. Some parents worry about bug bites, bee stings, and poison of at least one adult whoivy. Many children simply do not have an “outside” to play in because of the lackof playgrounds, parks, and open space. Others cannot get to a safe outside area can share it, rediscoveringbecause of busy roads and intersections. Liability concerns have limited with him the joy, excitementtraditional outdoor play activities like climbing trees and building forts. Videogames and other electronics lure kids inside. In some communities, kids are so and mystery of the world weoverscheduled that they just do not have time to play unless it is through an live in.”organized sport. —Rachel Carson, Author of Silent SpringNational Wildlife Federation (NWF) is committed to connecting children tonature. Children should have access to and time for play in nature. A right forunstructured play. A right to create and explore. A right to experience the senseof wonder of being outside. Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e2 ©ShutterStock Youth spend an average of six hours daily connected to electronic devices. What is at Research has linked childhood obesity even reduces the severity of Stake? to a lack of play time outdoors. symptoms of Attention Deficit/ The Health of Our Children Although physical activity through Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Nature deficit has had profound organized sports can help address which affects millions of American impacts on our children’s mental and childhood obesity, the medical children. physical health. Over the past 20 community recognizes that years, time spent playing outdoors has unstructured free time outdoors has The Economy been cut in half, but the childhood unique health benefits to children. The economic impacts of nature obesity rate has more than doubled Children who play outside are more deficit are significant. The costs of the and the adolescent obesity rate has active and more physically fit than childhood obesity epidemic to our tripled. Doctors warn that, for the first those who don’t. Time in nature public health systems could reach time in American history, life improves a chld’s academic $100 billion annually. Hunting and expectancy may actually decrease performance, concentration, balance, fishing licenses sales have stagnated, because of the health impacts of the coordination, and self-esteem. Recent resulting in severe cuts to state current childhood obesity epidemic. studies indicate that playing outside resource agencies’ budgets. A decline in outdoor retail sales, a $730 billion a year industry sector, may soon follow. The Future of American Know the FACTS Conservation From the redwood forests to the Gulf Research Shows: Stream waters, exploring the diverse E nv i ro n m en ta l E d u c at i on : n Good for overall student n Standardized test performance performance improves landscapes of America has shaped n Great at motivating students n Supports and improves other who we are as Americans. Children n Critical thinking skills science learning who spend time in nature are more consistently improve n Supports language-arts likely to have pro-environmental n Math skills consistently development attitudes as adults. Time spent in improve n Under-resourced nature with an adult important to the n Life science skills students show child often shapes a child’s long-term consistently increased improvement environmental ethic. If this nature deficit continues unabated, we may improve over peers face a dearth of environmental Sources: (Bartosh 2004); (Athman & Monroe 2004). ©ShutterStock Nationa l Wild life Feder ation • www.be outthere.o rg
A Policy Action Planleaders, professionals, and advocates education can connect children to the educate parents that down timeas we try to conquer future natural world. In addition to providing outside can result in healthier, happier 3environmental challenges such as this important connection, there are kids. We will ask healthcareglobal warming. We may also lose a many academic benefits to professionals to also considerunique aspect of our national culture environmental education, including recommending outdoor play forand identity. higher test scores in math, reading, overstressed kids and for children and language arts. Studies show that diagnosed with ADHD. integrated environmental education programs also increase children’s Increase Opportunities for ”We talk a lot about our critical thinking skills, self- Outdoor Recreation through children’s future, but not confidence, and academic motivation. Better Design and Access Environmental education can also The use of natural landscapes in that much about children. serve as an educational equalizer playground design leads to more active It’s time for big conservation across race, ethnicity, and and more creative play. In many socioeconomic levels. communities, children do not have organizations to actively access to safe outdoor play areas. engage children and work Promote Outdoor Play Connecting city parks through through our Public Health to protect them, to greenways and other green spaces can Systems provide natural areas for children to energize them, and to NWF will encourage federal and state play and increase wildlife habitat. cultivate their creativity in public health leaders to educate NWF will target cities in our nation’s parents and caregivers about the migratory bird flyways to establish protecting our world.” —Richard Louv, Author of Last Child in the Woods importance of play in tackling these green links that also serve as childhood obesity and improving wildlife corridors. By working with children’s mental health. The medical designers, city planners, and localSolutions to community recognizes that outdoor elected officials, NWF will work toReversing play time is critical to children’s increase wildlife habitat and ensureNature Deficit physical, mental, emotional, and that children have access to green, kid-and Connecting social well-being. Well-child visits friendly areas in their communities forChildren to reflect an important opportunity to unstructured play outside.NatureReversing nature deficit andconnecting children to nature will takeconcerted policy action on the local,state, and federal levels. Since itsinception in 1936, National WildlifeFederation (NWF) has worked todevelop public policies that protect theenvironment and increase outdoorrecreation opportunities for children.As part of our campaign to connectchildren to nature, we will:Connect Kids to Nature ©NWF/Charlie Archambault.through EnvironmentalEducationNWF will advocate for better fundingand access to environmental Physical activity, like bike riding, decreases health concerns such as diabetes.education; hands-on environmental Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e Encourage Parents to Build in Regular Time for4 Outdoor Play through GreenHour®, a National Educational Campaign Parents and policymakers can make a difference to get children to experience all the benefits of free time in nature. NWF’s national media and educational campaign, GreenHour®, helps parents with simple suggestions ©NWF/Charlie Archambault. on how to play outside. To give parents and caregivers the information, tools, and inspiration to get their kids outside, NWF has Enjoying nature as a family has long-reaching effects in children. created an online resource, www.GreenHour.org. NWF and its affiliated state organizations will also accessible green spaces where • Volunteer in a local park, school, form new “No Child Left Inside™” children can learn and play. Visit day care center, after-school care coalitions and work with existing GreenHour.org for ideas on how facility, or nature center. Work in groups of health professionals, to connect children to nature. a community garden, participate in educators, day care providers, after- a trash clean up, perform trail • Garden for wildlife with school care providers, business maintenance, or support park children. NWF has established a leaders, anglers, hunters, safety efforts. gardening for wildlife program environmental leaders, and elected that is a perfect way to share your • Play with a child outdoors. officials to take collective action to love of the outdoors with children Research shows that spending connect children with nature. and foster a future connection to time outdoors with children can nature. Not only does it give kids help shape their long-term What You Can Do a chance to get their hands dirty, environmental ethic. Free play in Take Action Close to Home the program also helps create an nature also increases physical On a personal level, solutions to understanding of how the things fitness and reduces anxiety. Go connect children to nature are pretty people plant impact the fishing. Take a hike. Or just go for simple. Research shows that environment; for example, how a walk and look at the clouds. childhood experiences in nature with replacing grass lawns with native an adult family member or mentor wildflowers, shrubs, and trees Take Action in Your help to shape a long-term connection provides a nurturing refuge for Community with nature. Spend time with your wildlife. The consequences of nature deficit are kids outdoors. Consider the following felt most keenly at the local level. actions: • Encourage your local school to Engage your local government, participate in NWF’s neighborhood associations, and other • Experience Green Hour . NWF Schoolyard Habitats Program, community-based organizations to: ® ® recommends that parents give their an integrated environmental kids a "Green Hour" every day, education program where kids • Get the word out. Educate health a time for unstructured play and plant wildlife-friendly vegetation professionals, teachers, day care interaction with the natural world. on school grounds. It gets kids providers, after-school care This can take place in a garden, a outside, educates them about the providers, city planners, business backyard, the park down the street, natural world, and has been shown leaders, and environmental or any place that provides safe and to improve their scores on professionals, and urge them to standardized tests. Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg
A Policy Action Plan incorporate nature deficit solutions opportunities for field trips to local • Require public health and into their everyday practices. nature centers, supply tools for an social service agencies to 5 after-school facility garden project, educate parents about the benefits• Work with local planning or give materials for a community- of outdoor play to children’s health commissions and homeowners’ based environmental education to fight obesity and make kids’ associations to create zoning program. lives better. policies and incentives to encourage more kid-friendly green • Encourage day care and spaces for creative play and Take Action in Your State pre-kindergarten certification designate special areas where State governments are responsible for programs to include education on children can participate in the majority of public policies that can the benefits of time outside for traditional outdoor activities such make our children’s lives healthy, children. as climbing trees and fort-building, happy, and more active. State • Provide more funding for which have been limited because governments should consider existing state programs that of liability concerns. integrated policy reforms that include promote recess, access to parks, connecting children to nature• Support opportunities and camp experiences, and other ways throughout the state health, social funding for local environmental to get kids outdoors. service, natural resources, and education, including asking local education systems. There are a number • Declare a Children’s Outdoor school board members to provide of meaningful actions your governor Bill of Rights to ensure children information on current and state legislature should take: have the right to experience all the environmental education efforts, benefits of unstructured free time plans to update programs, and • Host a “No Child Left Inside™” in nature. ways to increase funding for forum to discuss ways to connect programs that help teachers link children to nature with health care students to the outdoors. professionals, business leaders,• Team up with local law nonprofit organizations, educators, enforcement to ensure that parents after-school providers, urban are adequately informed about the planners, hunters and anglers, Know the FACTS safety of public parks and play conservation groups, and state and local officials to create access to Summer Vacation: areas and to increase opportunities for kids to play safely outside. safe outdoor play areas and A Ne w E x p e ri en c e educate parents on the benefits of fo r a n In d oo r• Create a local “No Child Left unstructured free play. G e n er at i on Inside™” Day or participate in other community awareness • Institute mandatory state Research shows standards for minimum exercise that school children events, such as NWF’s Great in school that focus on outdoor are actually gaining American Backyard Campout , ™ weight during summer NWF’s Wildlife Watch Day, activities for children. ©ShutterStock vacation now. Communities National Get Outdoors Day, and • Pass state environmental should respond by: International Migratory Bird Day . education legislation to promote ® n Connecting kids to water• Reach out to after-school place-based and outdoor safety classes and increase environmental education and opportunities for swim programs to see how you can help lessons. them create opportunities for more increase funding for updating environmental education n Sponsoring more day camps free play time outside for kids. at local parks. Research shows that the vast programs. n Working with local libraries to majority of children are enrolled in encourage kids to read about some kind of after-school the outdoors, then go outside. program. Provide incentives and Source: (Von Hippel 2007). Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e Take Action at the National Level6 The federal government has an important role in creating opportunities for children to play outdoors. Several federal policy actions can make a difference in connecting children with nature, and your federal officials should work to: • Pass proposed federal ©NWF/Charlie Archambault. legislation, such as the “No Child Left Inside™” amendment to the “No Child Left Behind” Act, to get environmental education Children who have a significant experience with nature by age 11 are more likely to back in the classroom and give value nature as an adult. incentives to states to create environmental literacy plans. • Form a Twenty-first Century • Increase the federal recreation Presidential Commission on the budget and review current federal • Reauthorize the National Great Outdoors to make outdoor agency programs and assess how Environmental Education Act to time part of children’s daily they can connect children to update environmental education experiences, and more fully nature. standards and increase critical explore the impacts of nature funding for environmental • Use existing federal public deficit on public health. education. health programs to educate parents on the importance of outdoor play to children’s health. • Call upon the Surgeon General FACTS and Secretary of Health and Human Services to ask parents Know the to make a commitment to Research Shows: children’s health by encouraging n Kids are spending less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago. their children to experience daily n Play outdoors can increase creativity, reduce stress, and lead to free play time outside. increased physical fitness. n Viewing nature can reduce physiological stress Conclusion response, increase levels of interest and attention, and decrease feelings of fear, anger, or aggression. Together, we can connect our children to nature and ensure that the next n Early-life outdoor experiences—whether alone or with others—have been identified as the most important factor in developing an generation has the opportunity, the environmental ethic. space, and the encouragement to “Go n Short-term exposure to natural Outside and Play.” areas through brief walks and even looking at images of nature has been found to have positive effects on mood, reducing feelings of anger and anxiety. ©ShutterStock Sources: (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001). Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg
7 Understanding our Children’s Nature Deficit ©Shutterstock. Nature Deficit Defined Children are no longer spending time playing outside. Today’s kids spend six and a half hours a day “plugged into” electronic media.1 Research shows that children are spending half as much time outside as they did 20 years ago.2 Meanwhile, the “When children become childhood obesity rate has more than doubled and the adolescent obesity rate has truly engaged with the tripled. Doctors warn that, for the first time in American history, life expectancy may actually decrease because of the health impacts of the current childhood natural world at a young obesity epidemic.3 In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv age, the experience is likely described this American trend. He gave this alarming problem a powerful name. Today’s kids suffer from a “nature deficit.” 4 to stay with them in a powerful way – shaping Why We Keep Our Kids Indoors The contributors to nature deficit are broad: fear of strangers; traffic hazards and a their subsequent lack of safe open space; liability; concerns about insect bites, bee stings, and itchy environmental path.” —Professor Nancy Wells, plants; and competition for outdoor time from video games and electronic media. Cornell University Stranger Danger Many parents are concerned about strangers harming children in public spaces, but the stark reality is that kids may be safer playing outdoors than at home surfing the Internet. Although the risk of stranger abduction is very remote, and stranger danger incidents have actually decreased over the last 20 years, many parents and caregivers have decided that it is just too dangerous for children to be outside on their own—especially if the child is out of sight. Many parents allow 5 their children to play indoors on the Internet unsupervised even though one out of five children (10 to 17 years old) receive unwanted sexual solicitations while surfing online. Nearly one-third of teens have talked about meeting someone in 6 person who they have only met through the Internet; 12% of teens have agreed to meet a stranger that they met online. Sixty percent have filled out questionnairesIns p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e and given their personal information, such as address,8 telephone number, and school name. Children who use the Internet are also more likely to be exposed to inappropriately sexual or violent content. “Nine out of 10 children between eight and 15 have viewed inappropriate content on the Internet, often unintentionally while doing homework or filesharing with friends.” 7 Traffic & Lack of Open Space Children have fewer outdoor places to play in general, and in existing green areas, few kids can bike or walk to their play areas without facing ©ShutterStock dangerous traffic hazards. Safe, natural areas for children to play outdoors The lack of urban planning over the past decades has reduced green space and access have significantly decreased over the to nature in neighborhoods. last 20 years.8 A recent report tracked the space that children were allowed to to walk or bike to school by age ten, Liability roam over four generations. As an compared to 56% of the parents who Even in areas where children are eight-year-old in 1926, the great- walked or biked to school when they allowed to play, many of their grandfather was allowed to roam for were ten.10 Road traffic interferes with activities have been severely limited six miles unaccompanied. In 2007, his safe outside play opportunities, and it by fears of liability for injuries. eight-year-old great-grandson could has been deemed “the one universal Homeowners’ associations often only go 300 yards from home on his factor above all others” that has limited prevent kids from participating in own. In fact, the space that children children’s physical space in which to traditional ways in nature – fort- have to roam around freely has play.11 Yet, policies that promote building, playing in ditches, and decreased by 88% since 1970. 9 Only walking and biking in communities digging in the dirt to make mud pies. 36% of today’s parents allow their kids actually increase pedestrian safety.12 In some outdoor summer camps, children aren’t allowed to climb trees.13 In other green areas, well- meaning adults often admonish kids who go off the trail to explore. In the Know the FACTS few school systems that still offer recess, many districts have R es e ar c h S ho ws : n Spending time outdoors can lessen the symptoms of significantly curtailed outdoor Attention Deficit Disorder/ADHD. n Viewing nature from a window can increase girls’ activities because of liability concerns associated with “active play” such as concentration and self-discipline. n Time playing in natural green spaces can improve tag. Other school districts have removed outdoor playground motor skills, including coordination. n Environmental education can increase science test equipment like swings and seesaws scores. from fear of lawsuits. 14 n 30 minutes outside a day can result in a better ©ShutterStock nights’ sleep. Sources: (Fjortoft 2004); (Touchette 2007); (Taylor 2001). Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg
A Policy Action Plan For example, pre-schoolers who watch violent television tend to be “I like to play indoors better 9 more antisocial and aggressive during ‘cause that’s where all the school years.20 electric outlets are.” Bugs, Bites, Stings, – A Fourth Grader in San Diego. and Itchy Plants can excel at academics, athletics or Many parents are concerned about specialties.” The media, the 26 bugs, bee stings, poison ivy, and other marketing of children’s toys and so- hazards.21 These concerns are very called educational products, and the manageable. Long sleeved shirts and increasingly rigorous college insect repellent can protect from bugs admission process contribute to this and mosquito-borne illnesses. Poison hyper-parenting phenomenon.27 As a oak and poison sumac are readily result, today’s children are feeling recognizable, and the right clothing more stress, more anxiety, and more can help limit exposure to these itchy pressure to be perfect. From piano plants. lessons to soccer practice, many of today’s kids shuttle back and forth The Overscheduled Child from activity to activity and have very ©ShutterStock The good news is that today’s few chances for outdoor play.Children’s time outside has decreased generation of parents is often moreby 50% over the last 20 years. focused and more family-oriented What is at Stake? than that of the baby boomer The Health of OurVideo Games and generation.22 These parents are making ChildrenElectronic Media conscious decisions to spend more Children are not spending timeAs kids spend more time “plugged in” time with their family. The bad news outdoors, which results in severeto electronic media, outdoor time has is that in the quest to be perfect impacts on their mental and physicaldecreased by 50% and childhood parents, today’s parents may be health. The medical community hasobesity has skyrocketed. According to unaware of the importance of play. declared that “play (or some availablethe Kaiser Family Foundation, today’s free time in the case of older childrenchildren spend an average of six and a Many children’s lives are way over- and adolescents) is essential to thehalf hours a day using media – scheduled, and, like adults, they are cognitive, physical, social, andincluding TV, computers, DVD involved in too many activities.23 The emotional well-being of children andplayers, and mp3 players. Over a medical community observed in a youth.”28 Because of the importantseven-day week, kids log in around 44 2007 study that kids are often “being health benefits of play, the Americanhours of media use – close to a full- raised in an increasingly hurried and Academy of Pediatrics hastime job worth of input. Eight- to 10- pressured style that may limit the recommended that children spend 60 15year-olds watch an average of more protective benefits they would gain minutes each day in unstructured playthan four hours of TV a day. The from child-driven play.” The time.29 The CDC recommends that 16 24University of Michigan has found a American Academy of Pediatrics children and adolescents participate in50% decrease in outdoor time over the warns that overscheduling of children at least 60 minutes of moderatelast 20 years. The more television a is becoming the “culture and even intensity physical activity most days 17child watches, the less time the child expectation of parents.” Dr. Alvin of the week.30 25spends outside playing. Research Rosenfeld has termed this cultural 18shows that playing video games and phenomenon “hyper-parenting,” Yet, for many American children, thewatching TV has negative impacts on which “compels parents to become experience of playing outdoors is atphysical health, and violent media relentlessly self-sacrificing, enrolling risk of going extinct.31 Today’s kidscontent negatively impacts children. children in activities so early so they spend six and a half hours a day 19Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e “plugged in” to some form of outdoors does not emphasize winning electronic media, and children have or losing.36 Some doctors also fear10 decreased their time outdoors by 50% that families experience additional since 1981.32 Children ages three to 12 stress levels when their ultra- spend one percent of their time competitive children’s sports outdoors, but they spend 27 percent of schedules require travel to away their time just watching TV.33 games.37 Furthermore, doctors warn Incredibly, children are now actually that parents should not simply rely on gaining weight over summer break, a organized sports to ensure kids get time most often associated with enough physical activity. Instead, the outdoor activities like swimming, medical community urges parents to hiking, and simply playing outside.34 exercise with their children in the This lack of unstructured free time outdoors to promote an active, healthy outdoors has serious consequences for lifestyle.38 children’s health. The Physical Health Outdoor Play is Different Impacts: Outdoor than Participating in “Play” Instead of Organized Sports Exercise ©ShutterStock Although participation in organized Given the positive associations sports is beneficial to children for a connected to outdoor play and The American Academy of Pediatrics variety of health reasons, it does not negative connotation with “exercise,” recommends 60 minutes of daily have the same impact as unstructured experts recommend that we change unstructured free play as essential to free play outside. Often children the terminology to get kids to exercise children’s physical and mental health. spend more time on the sidelines than outside. Instead of using the term playing in the game. In contrast, play “exercise,” we need to encourage including higher risks of outside involves everyone.35 Play children to “play.”39 cardiovascular disease, diabetes, bone outside enhances children’s critical and joint problems, and sleep apnea. 43 thinking skills and creativity. Unlike Lack of Play Time Outdoors Overweight children often become organized sports, unstructured play is Linked to Childhood overweight adults, and the effect of Obesity obesity on adult health is profound. There is growing concern that Doctors warn that without children’s lack of time outdoors is unstructured play time, today’s kids linked to the national obesity are growing up with depression, and Know the FACTS epidemic. The prevalence of anxiety, and have become Research shows: 40 overweight children ages six to 11 has increasingly overweight.44 more than doubled in the last 20 C h ild r en wh o years, increasing from 7% in 1980 to Kids who Play Outdoors Play p la y o ut s id e n Play more creatively n Have lower stress levels 18.8% in 2004. The rate among Harder, have Better Motor n Have more active adolescents aged 12 to 19 more than Development, and are imaginations tripled, increasing from 5% to Generally More Fit 17.1%. Doctors warn that, for the Research shows that kids who play 41 n Become fitter and leaner n Develop stronger immune first time in American history, life outdoors play harder and get more systems expectancy may actually decrease exercise.45 Scientists have shown that n Have greater respect for because of the health impacts of the kids who play outdoors are generally current childhood obesity epidemic. more fit than those who spend the 42 themselves, for others, and for the environment Overweight and obese children suffer majority of their time inside.46 Kids Sources: (Fjortoft 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005). from a myriad of health problems, who play outside in natural areas also Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg
A Policy Action Planshowed a statistically significantimprovement in motor fitness with 11better coordination, balance, andagility.47 The “richness and novelty” ofbeing outdoors also stimulates braindevelopment.48Outdoor Play May Help KidsGet Better SleepThe National Institutes of Healthrecommends 30 minutes outside dailyfor better sleep, and studies indicatethat children’s play outside canimprove sleep.49 Half of all ©Shutterstock.adolescents get less than seven hoursof sleep on weeknights.50 Insufficientsleep during childhood can cause The Mental Health Lessens the Symptomspermanent changes in a child’s brain Impacts: More Time of ADHDstructure, and some scientists believe Outside, Less Anxiety Over two million children in the U.S.that “many of the hallmark have been diagnosed with Attentioncharacteristics of being a tweener and While today’s children are exposed to Deficit/Hyperactivity Disordera teen – moodiness, depression, and more images of nature through the (ADHD). Children with ADHD areeven binge eating – are actually Internet and television than previous restless, have trouble paying attention,symptoms of chronic sleep generations, they are missing out on listening, following directions, anddeprivation.”51 For toddlers especially, the benefits of a direct experience with focusing on tasks.58 Research has showna lack of sleep can have serious nature.54 Time spent in nature has an that spending time outdoors reduces theconsequences. Research has shown intense psychological effect on severity of symptoms of children withthat less than 10 hours a night of sleep children. “The non-human ADHD.59 The greener a child’s playfor toddlers “is associated with environment, far from being of little or area, the less severe the ADHDexternalizing problems such as no account to human personality symptoms. Even indoor settings withHyperactivity-impulsivity (HI) and development, constitutes one of the windows may be more supportive forlower cognitive performance on most basically important ingredients of ADHD kids than indoor settingsneurodevelopment tests.”52 Obesity human psychological existence.”55 without windows.60 Researchers havehas been linked to sleep disorders in Exposure to nature has many short- also found that even short walks inchildren, and exercise has been shown term benefits on children’s green settings such as urban parksto dramatically reduce sleep problems psychological and physical well-being. increases concentration in sufferers ofin affected children. In one recent Being in nature engages all five senses ADHD and lessens other ADHD relatedstudy, for example, half of the and therefore affects childhood symptoms.61participating children who engaged in maturation very strongly. Nature is 56daily outdoor play for 40 minutes also continuously dynamic and Promotes Self-Confidencefound that their snoring went away in unstable, which heightens awareness and Improves Concentrationthree months. while observing wildlife and Children who spend time playing 53 experiencing the outdoors. Research outside are more likely to take risks, shows that “direct, ongoing experience seek out adventure, develop self- of nature in relatively familiar settings confidence and respect the value of remains a vital source for children’s nature.62 Outdoor recreation physical, emotional, and intellectual experiences like camping can improve development.” children’s self-esteem.63 Green spaces 57 Ins p i r i n g A m e r ic a n s to pro te ct w i l d l i f e f o r o ur children’s future.
C o n n e c t i n g To d a y ’s K i d s w i t h N a t u r e outside the home – including stress. In a 2003 survey, 73% of 67 views of nature from windows – can children said that participating in "When one tugs at a single12 increase concentration, inhibition of outdoor activities allows them to thing in nature, he finds it initial impulses, and self-discipline.64 connect with themselves. 83% of children said that getting into a natural attached to the rest of the Stimulates Creativity and setting allows them to escape the world." Problem-Solving Skills pressures of everyday life.68 Just —John Muir, Naturalist Unstructured play outdoors also viewing nature reduces physiological promotes creativity and problem- stress response, increases levels of developing. Health effects include solving skills, because all play interest and attention, and decreases asthma, allergy attacks, headaches, requires “solving some form of social feelings of fear and anger or and even cancer. 72 problem, such as deciding what to aggression.69 play, who can play, when to start, Costs to Outdoor Recreation when to stop, and the rules of The Economy Industry from Reduced Visits engagement.”65 Public Health Costs Due to to Parks, Declining Interest Obesity and Indoor Air in Hunting and Fishing, and Pollution Fewer Excursions in the Given the connection between nature Outdoors deficit and childhood obesity, the The active outdoor recreation economic toll on our public health economy contributes $730 billion system is significant. According to the annually to the U.S. economy. National Academy of Sciences, Outdoor recreation supports six and a national healthcare costs for obese half million jobs in the U.S., and and overweight adults alone range generates $88 billion in annual state from $98 billion to $129 billion and national tax revenue, and $289 annually. “Obesity-associated annual billion annually in retail sales and hospital costs for children and youth services in the country.73 A continued more than tripled over two decades, nature deficit could substantially rising from $35 million in 1979-1981 impact this profitable sector of the to $127 million in 1997-1999.”70 U.S. economy. ©ShutterStock The economic toll associated with In 2006, 87 million Americans spent children’s exposure to indoor air approximately $120 billion enjoying Time in nature increases concentration for students. pollution, including mold, radon, recreational activities relating to fish nitrogen oxides, tobacco smoke, and and wildlife. This spending equates to Reduces Stress and dust, is also significant. The costs to about 1% of gross domestic product, Aggression public health systems and of lost which means that one out of every Time spent in green spaces, including productivity due to indoor air 100 dollars of all goods and services parks, play areas, and gardens, has pollution amount to an estimated $45 produced in the U.S. is associated been shown to reduce stress and billion per year for the State of with wildlife recreation. Anglers and mental fatigue. At least one study California alone. Air quality inside is hunters spent $75.4 billion in 2006, 66 71 examined kids in inner city urban often worse than outside, even in with an average of $2,225 per person areas of similar income, education, major cities. Some indoor pollutants in 2006.74 and family situations, who live in are two to 50 times higher in public housing. Children who were concentration indoors than outdoors. Unfortunately, hunting and angling exposed to greener environments in Children are particularly vulnerable to activities have rapidly decreased over the public housing area demonstrated the effects of indoor air pollution the last 20 years. Overall hunting less aggression, violence, and mental because their immune systems are participation dropped 10% from 1996 Nationa l Wild life Fed er a tion • www.be outthere.o rg