You've the read the statistics about children's disconnect from nature and community. What's the latest news now? 6.5 hours a day of screen time for the average American child? Or is it 8 hours? Diminishing unstructured play time for kids, less leisure time for adults, and more time on the job. National Park visitation has dropped and childhood obesity is booming. Children can identify more video games and commercialized plastic products than they can recall a common bird song or verbalize the difference between a sugar maple and a white pine. Access to wildpsaces is vanishing and "stranger danger" has crippled free roaming in our neighborhoods. 20 years ago when I began working with children outside none of these statistics were being talked about. Many of them hadn't even come to be. We were still trying to protect whales and save the rainforest. The fabric of our own New England landscape hadn't yet been inundated with HD TV, Xbox, cell phones, high speed Internet, ipods,and the list goes on with the support of a crumbling economy.
Now, I feel like I am trying to save my own species, the human one, and the whole of childhood. Quick, let me teach you how to play and be outdoors! But, let's not continue to dive into the why and what might happen if we don't,...rather let's look at how we can make a change. I strongly believe change starts at home, in our schools and in our communities (yeah Vermont!). I'd like to share just 5 ways to make it happen on your doorstep. This is a top 5 list not to ignore.
#1 - Nature is contagious. If you want to instill a love of the outdoors in your children, you as a busy adult need to get outside as well. Be a model for your kids. They are watching you and listening to you. Get dirty, wear mud boots and rain pants. Jump in snowbanks and catch a frog. Make going for walks in the forest or near a pond a weekly family activity. Playing is contagious and an incredible stress reliever,...especially outside. Take the time, we have more than we realize.
Time to engage
#2 - Have a "Bag-of-tricks". Children love using tools. Hand lenses, a small hand trowel for digging, a flashlight for dark crevices, string, cups for filling and dumping, pencils and paper. All of these can make a morning walk turn into an all day exploration. Don't forget a beginner field guide as well. Keep your "bag-of tricks" at the back door. A snack and a water bottle brings the bag up to a new level. Don't leave home without it!
#3 - Open a Nature Museum. Your children will fill their pockets with things they have found outside. Rocks, feathers, leaves, shells, sticks, and yes, even handfuls of dirt. Make a space for your children's treasures in your home. Let nature come inside and be part of a museum and an ongoing learning opportunity. Set a place at the dinner table for nature.
#4 - Look for Natural Play Spaces. Children love to create their own play spaces outdoors. Look for the nooks and crannies in a hedgerow, under the drooping boughs of a fir tree, or next to a large boulder. Nature provides it's own playground with a much bigger opportunity for making it your own. The kids will tell you where the best places are, it's part of their biology. Follow them!
A child's special place
#5- Find your Local Nature Hot Spots. Most communities in Vermont have a public park or recreation field. Find out where they are and then follow the suggestions above! Did you know the city of Montpelier has miles of trails starting at Hubbard Park and going all the way to East Montpelier? Town forests are open to the public for exploring and taking care of. Know where your rivers are and what we've named them. Become a steward of a green space or a watershed in your town.
It's meant to be simple and straight forward. It's just 5 ways. Get out there and make it better for our children and for yourself. Nature is waiting,....