Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Reconnecting Kids with Nature

Did you know that the amount of time that U.S. children spend outdoors has declined 50% in the past 20 years? This is a shame because studies have shown many physical, psychological and academic benefits for kids who spend time and play outdoors. Kids who regularly play outdoors in nature tend to play more creatively/imaginatively, are generally healthier with lower stress levels, and have a greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment.

Research conducted by Euro RSCG shows that 88% of tweens (kids ages 8-12) like to be in nature and 79% of tweens wish they could spend more time in nature. So, as parents, how do you help them do that? Following are some tips from the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council to help you and your kids experience nature in a way that’s good for them and the environment:

• If being outdoors is new to you or your child, don’t be scared. The natural world is not always a controlled activity, but you can take it slowly at first. Start out in a forest or park, or even your own yard, where you and your child feel safe exploring a little bit. Try planting a garden or simple house plants, and talk about how plants and animals depend on nature to grow.

• Get a basic field guide to help you and your kids learn about nature. Field guides are a great resource for information about a specific area, as well as types of animals and plants.

• Give your kids time and space for free play. Most kids today can’t or don’t have opportunities to simply go outside and play without supervision or structured activities. But letting them explore and learn on their own is critical to their cognitive development, not to mention their appreciation of the natural world. Let them get their hands dirty. Maybe they’ll even learn to appreciate a nice, hot bath!

• Help your children experience nature -- on their terms. It’s okay to help them discover new things. Turn over a rock or count the different birds you see outdoors. Just be sure to let their imagination go wild and encourage their sense of wonder. Try to experience it as if you are a child. You’ll probably find that it’s a lot of fun to learn along with them.

• Use your imagination to tap into their interest in nature. For many kids, spending a lot of their time indoors or in structured activities is normal. Use elements of those activities to relate to the natural world. For example, ask how a particular video game or movie character might react to the outdoors. Then show your child how he or she is well adapted to the natural world.

Visit www.DiscoverTheForest.org where you can find local parks and pick up ideas on what to do on an outdoor adventure, such as leaf rubs, tracking animals, and learning to use a compass! Here’s a video that you can also watch with your children:

Discover the Forest

[Note: If you’re reading this post via email, you may need to click onto the title of this post to access the website and view the video.]

Your kids may resist turning off the TV or putting down the video game controller at first, but once they discover the adventures that await them outdoors, they’ll be willing participants. Whenever my twins are watching TV, I only need to say, “Let’s go outside,” and they’re off and running! They love to hunt for bugs and snakes, jump in the puddles, and seek out new flowers. Help your kids to develop a love for nature now, and the benefits will be life-long.


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