Kids need outdoor play.  Let me preface this essay by saying,  “Don’t take my word for it, listen to Richard.”

Richard Louv wrote the book on children and nature.  Actually, he wrote several and they were all good.  Good enough for me to tell you about his most recognized book, Last Child in the Woods.  If you are a parent buy this book – and then share it with another parent who needs it (http://www.amazon.com/dp/156512605X/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=4778074435&ref=pd_sl_7xoacvkh8o_e).

In Last Child in the Woods, Louv brings our attention to a number of benefits children derive from time in nature.  All quotes in this post are taken from Richard Louv’s 2005 book.  Let’s travel from most to least obvious:

  • Childhood Obesity.  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  This is not news.  More time indoors means less physical activity and a greater proximity to the refrigerator and cupboards.
  • Stress.  Nancy Wells, with the New York State College of Human Ecology at Cornell noted that “our study finds that life’s stressful events appear not to cause as much psychological distress in children who live in high-nature conditions compared with children who live in low-nature conditions,” (p. 49).
  • Social Interaction.  Emotional benefits derived from social interactions are impacted by green space.  A Swedish study cited by Louv “shows that children and parents who live in places that allow for outdoor access have twice as many friends as those who have restricted outdoor access due to traffic,” (p. 49).
  • ADHD.  I will quote directly, “more time in nature – combined with less television and more stimulating play and educational settings – may go a long was toward reducing attention deficits in children,” (p. 107).  There is a lot of research to support this notion.  I will let you discover it on your own.
  • Miscellaneous.  Creativity, cognitive-flexibility, problem-solving ability, self-esteem, and self-discipline all benefit from unstructured play time in a natural setting. 

I am 37 years old.  I grew up during the 70s and 80s.  My brother and I played Atari.  The first computer my family owned was a Texas Instrument TI99.  I had email when I went to college at Grinnell in 1991.  When I graduated in 1995, there were only 23,500 websites.  According to http://www.zakon.org/robert/internet/timeline/, there were 6,598,697 by 1999.  My generation has lived through the transition from analog to digital.  We are the bridge.

So when I read the work of Richard Louv, who longs for “the good old’ days” when kids grew up running in the neighborhood until mom called them in for dinner, I don’t go misty-eyed.  I understand that times have changed.  I can see that my parents grew up being sent outside for the day, and I understand why my peers feel safer when their kids are inside on the X-Box or playing in an organized sports league.  This post is for my peers, my fellow parents, who are trying to sort out where they stand on the bridge between digital and analog, online and offline, indoors and outdoors.  My father taught me that “moderation in all things” is a healthy way to live life.  I believe that saying.  I try and live it.

I also believe we need time in natural settings.  I know I feel better after a hike in the woods or paddling down a river.  I also believe that the world has changed and that our children need skills acquired on computers and from other indoor pursuits.  For the sake of your children, find the balance. 

 Good Luck!

 We’ll see you at Camp!

Nathan

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