You know something's awry when your child prefers to play indoors because "that's where all the electrical outlets are." The potential for parental cardiac arrest not withstanding, the truth is that children today spend far too much time cooped up at home with their tushies parked in front of the television or PC, so much so that their estrangement from the great outdoors now has a name: nature deficit disorder.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) has launched the Green Hour program to educate parents, teachers, caregivers, and elected officials about how vital outdoor experiences are in children's lives, and to increase the number of kids spending time with all things wild and woolly.
American children between the ages of 8 to 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day indoors using computers, video games, television, and MP3 players, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. This sedentary lifestyle has been cited as one of the reasons for the rising incidence of childhood obesity, high blood pressure, and attention deficit disorders, among others."Through Green Hour and related programs, NWF is committed to reversing this indoor trend, assuring that youngsters enjoy the many benefits of outdoor time," says Kevin Coyle, vice president of Education Programs, in a press release. "As they experience the world around them, they will also grow to love and care for it. This initiative offers hope for the welfare of our children as well as the future of environmental stewardship."
Children can benefit enormously from just one hour of unstructured outdoor play each day, according to the NWF. While expanding their minds and imaginations, their stress levels fall, and they become fitter and leaner. Some studies even discovered strengthened immune systems after prolonged contact with nature. And when children learn about the value of conserving wildlife and wild places, they're also more likely to grow up wanting to protect them.
Your child's Green Hour can happen in any safe, green space, such as a garden, backyard, or a neighborhood park.
Some ideas for outdoor exploration, recommended by the NWF, are:
• Enjoy a five-senses hike
• Organize a nature scavenger hunt
• Explore a local nature trail
• Camp out in the backyard
• Take a nature photo safari
• Put up a bird feeder and watch for visitors
• Observe the night sky
• Plant a family tree and watch it grow
• Invite neighborhood kids to join in a bug walk and critter talk