It’s hard to believe that this week is designated as “Take a Child Outside Week.” The fact that we even need to have an initiative to motivate parents to go outside with their children and connect with nature is beyond comprehension for me!
During my childhood years, there was no better place to be than outside. In fact, our parents didn’t even offer us any other options; they just wanted to know that we were in the “neighborhood.” This could mean the woods near our house, down the street playing in someone’s backyard or at the school playground around the corner. We were always outside even as our parents stayed inside. Our parents didn’t have to “take us outside.” Our parents didn’t buy nor need to steer us away from the HDTV, video games, computers, phones and other technological gadgets that bombard the environment of children today. It seems a bit ironic that it’s the parent’s responsibility to get their children outside when it is they, the parents, who buy all the newest technology and allow (or even encourage) their children to learn how to use it. In Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder,” he quotes a fourth-grader as saying, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
I saw an ad in the paper last week that had the following message, “There is no childhood obesity epidemic. (We just need better role models.)” We need parents to recognize that they are their children’s first teachers and that they are their children’s role models. One in three kids are overweight or obese and electronic media and junk food are partly to blame. And who is buying these pricey video games and high fat and sugar foods? It’s usually not the 4- to 8-year-old child. I feel as responsible adults we need not to be spending money on these items for our young children. Turn off the TV (I think there’s a designated week for that too!), and consider playing a video game or watching a movie a “treat” and not something to be consumed 5-6 hours daily!
What if we open the door and give children the time and opportunities to explore and discover nature on their own? Finding worms and dirt and leaves and sticks and rocks and bugs and whatever the outdoor space has to offer, the natural world is rich in sensory experiences for children. Smell the flowers, listen to the birds, feel the wind on your face, roll in the grass, stomp in the puddles or watch the shapes of clouds in the sky. Even in urban environments, children can experience nature. Provide magnifying glasses, tweezers , and small shovels for children to explore a small patch of dirt or grass. Even weeds grow in sidewalk cracks, ants can be found there too. Place a thermometer outside and read the temperature. Watch shadows, use binoculars for bird or squirrel watching. You don’t have to be a naturalist to instill in children an awe of the world and a desire to discover and uncover what is around them. You can nurture children’s interest in nature simply by demonstrating your own excitement and curiosity. Let’s go outside! You are a role model!