Sunday, September 30, 2007

From NC

Joe Miller is an outdoor writer in the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and he recently wrote a good blog post on the Children and Nature issue.

Traffic, OK, traffic does suck. In the '70s, '80s and '90s we built neighborhoods seemingly intent on keeping kids penned in. No sidewalks, too many streets as major thoroughfares. Couple that with lax law enforcement (when was the last time you saw someone slow down in a flashing School Zone?) and there's reason for parental concern. Fortunately, municipalities such as Cary and planned communities such as Meadowmont, Southern Village and Brier Chapel are making neighborhoods bike & pedestrian safe again.
These posts and articles on this topic just keep coming, a good sign.

Saturday, September 29, 2007


Keith at Carbon Neutral Journal points out a cool endeavor that could inspire some teens to get into the bike design business.

The Innovate or Die Contest is sponsored by Specialized Bikes and offers a $5,000 prize to the best "unprecedented pedal powered" machine. Contestants post their inventions on You Tube.

I've mentioned iback in the early 70's we were building our own "clunkers" for use on the paths of our local state park, years before "mountain bike" was a term. If we could do it then, today's kids can too.

Bikes, kids,the outdoors, imaginations, and You Tube all connect, who knows what they could come up with?

Friday, September 28, 2007

More on No Child Left Inside Act

Grist has more on the Sarbanes bill, including a brief interview with North American Association for Environmental Education executive director Brian Day.

Getting children outside is very important, but the bill is about much more than that. In essence, what it would do is provide federal dollars to help train teachers in environmental education and help states create and carry out environmental education plans.

What we aim to do is go back to educating the whole child. We believe children need the whole piece: social studies, history, art, music. And they need to know about the natural world so that they can make good decisions as adults and citizens. We want to make sure that high-school graduates are environmentally literate.

National Public Lands Day Tour

Follow the goings on of this year's Voluntour at the National Public Lands Day blog.

Into the Wild

Jon Krakauer's book Into the Wild is now a film directed by Sean Penn. It's getting good reviews.

It's the story of a kid who goes to Alaska to live in the wild, kinda like Thoreau. His experience and judgment though, did not match his "back to nature" ambitions.

I always thought the book was interesting, but never could quite could figure out the real motives of Chris McCandless. Here's a link to the original Outside Magazine article from 1993.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Poll

The AP is reporting on a new poll from Stanford's Woods Center on the environment. People want a greener world, and they are not liking what they see today.

People want their leaders to move boldly to help the environment but give them dismal grades for their actions so far, according to a poll released Wednesday that highlighted rampant pessimism on the issue.

Only about one in five voiced approval of how President Bush, Congress and U.S. businesses have been handling the environment. And while decisive majorities said they want strong public and private action, fewer than one in 10 said they had seen such steps in the past year, according to the poll by The Associated Press and Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment.

See the report here.

Camping with the Young Kids

From Mountain Culture Blog out of Jackson Hole, first time out with the kids.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Childhood Obesity

New study out today. Read about it here, and here.

From the Post article:
All three experts strongly advocated increasing your child's physical activity levels. "After dinner, go for a walk. If your kids like to watch videos, encourage them to dance to the music," advised Salazar. Rao said that walking to school is also a great way for kids to get more daily exercise.

Kaiser Permanente is again jumping into this issue as well.

Kaiser Permanente has joined forces with Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education and media company, to distribute supplementary educational materials that meet national standards along with CDs of the game to more than 5,000 public schools nationwide this month. The materials include a teaching guide with engaging lessons and activities as well as a colorful wall poster with a full month of healthy ideas for the classroom. Family fun pages reinforce the healthy choice messages being taught in the classroom and include healthy tips and resources for families and a family profile chart to help families set health goals for themselves and their children.

Houston and Open Space

The City of Houston has a proposal that would require developers to provide land for parks and open space as part of their development activities.

“This effort is important because parks have functions beyond generally improving the City. Parks and green spaces represent critically important environmental amenities; contact with nature is highly valued, and it offers a range of health benefits. In cities and towns, parks are the principal venue for regular public access to nature. Parks also offer settings for physical activity and social interaction. Most importantly, parks, green space and nature provide significant benefits to communities including: (1) economic; (2) developmental; (3) psychological; (4) air quality; and, (5) public health."
Good idea.

The Mayor of Houston is on The Conservation Fund's National Forum on Children and Nature.

Rich Louv will be in Houston to reinforce the benefits of doing this on October 2, 2007.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Interesting Questions

Recently cam across this blog post at a blog I really know nothing about, but David Anderson's questions about the nature of our relationship with Nature now and in the future are interesting, and worth thinking about. Check 'em out.

Anyway, I was listening to NPR the other day, and a guest was arguing that children have a developmental need to be “out in nature,” by which he meant away from human civilization. He gave this condition the ridiculous name of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” but I couldn’t help but wonder if I had possibly confused an inherent love for nature/wildness that children have with an enthusiasm for exploration.

One Meter

I try not to post on things like global warming and climate change as so many folks out there are doing a great job getting the word out.

However, I read this Gristmill post and had to make mention of it.

The Associated Press science writer has an article out that describes climate change outcomes that that will affect our children's future.

Global warming—through a combination of melting glaciers, disappearing ice sheets and warmer waters expanding—is expected to cause oceans to rise by one meter, or about 39 inches. It will happen regardless of any future actions to curb greenhouse gases, several leading scientists say. And it will reshape the nation.

Our society needs to be aware and understand that dealing with this issue in the future will require our younger generations to be engaged.

Check out this link, an interactive Google map that allows you to see impacts of various levels of sea rise on your favorite coastal area.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Take a Child Outside Week

This is the week, September 24-30, 2007.

More info here, from the NC Museum of Natural Sciences.

Monday Editorial

One of our local papers, the Frederick News-Post, has an editorial up on the issue of NDD and the Sarbanes No Child Left Inside legislation.

It hardly matters what you call it. Symptoms witnessed in children today that result from their diminishing connections to nature are omnipresent, if not woeful.

Are we not witnessing a childhood obesity epidemic? How many kids today experience anything remotely (no pun intended) close to a non-video/computer-screen-involved life? More importantly: How can we reasonably expect upcoming generations to develop a meaningful connection or empathetic response to the environment absent any first-hand knowledge of, or ongoing interaction with, it? How do you care about something you don't know?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Quick Sunday Link

A reader passed off this link. Looks like a great program that will make a difference.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


The National Archery in the Schools program gets safe archery programs into schools with the intent of introducing kids to a lifetime sport. Whether for hunting or target shooting, archery is a fun sport that gets kids outside.

We had an Olympic archery competitor at NCTC a few years back and he was literally swarmed by kids for hours.

Check out NASP.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Life's a Ball, TV Tonight!

Not to get too enmeshed in the anti TV movement, but here's an article from one of the big anti tv sites. Not good.

  • 26 percent of U.S. children watch four or more hours of television per day.
  • 67 percent of U.S. children watch two or more hours per day.
  • Almost half (48 percent) of all families with tweens have all four of the latest media staples: TV, VCR, video game equipment and a computer.
  • The bedroom of the 21st century child is a multimedia environment. Of children 9 - 13 years old, more than half (57 percent) have a TV in the bedroom; 39 percent have video game equipment; 30 percent have a VCR; 20 percent a computer and 11 percent Internet access."

Media Round Up for a Friday

Here's some of the latest press on the topic of nature and children's health:

1) Go for a hike.

This article seems a bit naive to what kids face today, but its point is a good one, get out there with your kids.

Most children naturally love the outdoors. With the proper planning, hiking can be a way for you and your children to improve fitness levels while learning from one another about nature.
2) Junk Play Hurts Children

From the BBC:

"Just as the epidemic of childhood obesity recently took the developed world by surprise, too much 'junk play' could (like too much junk food) have alarming implications for the next generation."
3) From Canada, A Dose of Nature

Do you or does someone you know suffer from nature-deficit disorder? If so, there's a quick fix: head outdoors. And if you've got kids, take them by the hand and bring them along. After all, studies have shown that children are the ones most prone to this 21st-century malady, and most are in need of more free time to experience the wild magic of nature.
4) Get Outside

When I mentioned Take A Child Outside Week to my editor, she gave me the cocked-head look of a perplexed puppy. "We have to have a day set aside to take our kids outside?" she asked. "When I was a kid, it was 'Get out of the house day.' Every day was 'Get out of the house day.' "

5) Follow up Press on The California Outdoor Bill of Rights

As a child psychologist, some of Dr. Claude Arnett's best therapy isn't done in his office.

He takes a walk along the American River Parkway with his troubled charges. Most have never taken that kind of walk before. "We look at fish. We've seen turkeys and deer and rabbits," Arnett said.

"The children relax," he said. Healing begins.

Lots happening out there.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Futurist

The World Future Society, which publishes Futurist has their 2007 top ten forecasts out.

Here's number 5:

5. Children's "nature deficit disorder" will grow as a health threat. Children today are spending less time in direct contact with nature than did previous generations. The impacts are showing up not only in their lack of physical fitness, but also in the growing prevalence of hyperactivity and attention deficit. Studies show that immersing children in outdoor settings away from television and video games fosters more creative mental activity and concentration.

Primitive Pursuits

Apparently that new show on CBS, Kid Nation, was on last night--the one where they took a couple dozen kids, put them in the desert and told them to create a society, with camera rolling and liability waivers signed by parents thinking this will give their kids the boost that they need for "show business". Basically a load of contrived crap. Highly unrecommended.

With that said, here's a great program that really gets kids out in the woods.

Primitive Pursuits is a program out of Cornell Cooperative Extension Office. It gets kids outside in the woods, to teach them survival and wilderness living skills. They get dirty. They start fires, without matches. They build shelters. They bring kids from urban areas out.

The Ithaca Times recently wrote about a new program at Primitive Pursuits:

Starting this month, five groups of ten to 15 pre-teen youths from the West Village Apartments, Parkside Gardens, and other underserved neighborhoods in Ithaca will begin eight weeks of after-school outdoor activities that will culminate in an overnight wilderness adventure in the Finger Lakes National Forest. The program also includes a year-round outdoor leadership program that will prepare teens ages 13 to 19 to become mentors to the younger groups while they hone their skills for possible future employment in wilderness and environmental activities.

The program became possible through a grant from the USDA Forest Service that was awarded in May as part of the Service's More Kids in the Woods Program.

A cool program that will make a difference. Here's their website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Farm Based Education

The Farm-Based Education Association promotes education "out on the farm," where kids can get their hands dirty and learn about local agriculture.

They are presenting their third annual Educational Farm Symposium at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne Vermont in November. Here's a link for more info on the event.

No farms, No food...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Nick Going Dark!

Here's some amazing news--

As part of Go Healthy Month, and the Go Healthy Challenge, the TV network Nickelodeon, and its sister digital networks including Nicktoons Network, Noggin and Nick G.A.S. will go off the air for from 12:00 noon to 3:00 PM on Nickelodeon’s 4th annual Worldwide Day of Play--September 29th.

Imagine that, a TV network will turn itself off for three hours to get kids outside...

More info on this and related events here.

Cool Video from Planet Jackson Hole

This is a bit of a diversion, but I saw this recently and wanted to post the link.

Sure climbing the Grand is not a typical "get in touch with nature" thing to do. Sure we don't want all our ten year olds doing things like this without the right leader, but, some grade school kids can/need to grow up to be climbers, and this video clip shows that Gen Y types can be very in touch with nature.

Here's a three minute video climb of the Grand Teton.

Monday, September 17, 2007

That Picture--Extra

So there we were, a thousand feet or so above the Sheenjek River, on the south slope of the Brooks Range in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We stopped for a drink and to watch a grizzly bear that was reveling in the berry bounty on the flats near the river channel. I pulled out the camera and began snapping pictures, and saw Brad sitting there watching the bear.

Looked like a good shot, so I snapped it. Nikon camera, slow Fuji Velvia Film.

That damn picture ended up being the "magic image" that hack photographers like me never even think we'll figure out, let alone take.

Newspapers, websites, MSNBC, the cover of National Wildlife Refuge Magazine, The Hill, calls from Senate offices; and now, Delta Sky Magazine has it, along with a fine interview with The Conservation Fund's Larry Selzer. It has become an iconic image or Arctic Refuge. Wow.

New Film

As a member of the American Conservation Film Festival Selection Committee, I see a lot of conservation films. Here's a new film that we are interested in that is right down the Children and Nature alley.

Summercamp! is a documentary about a session at a Wisconsin camp, and it is getting some good press.

You can see the trailer here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Movement Building

Columnist Mark Howell writes.

Other more holistic approaches are now being talked about. Howard Frumkin and Richard Louv in their 2007 report The Link Between Conserving Land and Preserving Health state "evidence suggests that children and adults benefit so much from contact with nature that land conservation can now be viewed as a public health strategy."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Unstructured Time

Kevin Coyle at NWF's Green Hour site is linking to an interesting article on the importance of play and unstructured time.

Check it out here.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Outdoor Industry Foundation Speaks Out--Extra

The Outdoor Industry Foundation is speaking out on the issue of children and nature as they search for their first Executive Director.

“One of the most important issues affecting our industry and our nation today is the inactivity crisis in children---- tomorrow’s consumers, business leaders, outdoor participants and stewards of the environment,” said Jay Steere, VP of Global Product Development/Outdoor Performance at Timberland and chair of the Outdoor Industry Foundation. “It is imperative that we collaborate through the Foundation to address this trend and ensure the health of not only our industry, but the nation as a whole.”

New Conferences

Here's a "No Child Left Inside" conference scheduled in Steven's Point, Wisconsin for this October, with Rich Louv providing the keynote.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A Year Later

Students from The Hill School meet the great oceanographer Sylvia Earle
during the National Dialogue on Children and Nature held at NCTC.

It's coming up on a year since the National Dialogue on Children and Nature, which was presented by The Conservation Fund and hosted by the National Conservation Training Center.

Has progress been made since that event?

Yes. Lots.

Let's look at some of the accomplishments and on-going initiatives that have arisen from this seminal gathering.

1. The Children and Nature Network Rich Louv gives an update currently on the website front page.
In the past year we have seen the growth of countless new private and public programs aimed at reconnecting children and nature — and the bolstering of many existing ones. The idea of a national children and nature movement has become a reality.
2. The National Forum on Children and Nature

The major outcome of the meeting was a commitment to elevate this issue to the national agenda through a National Forum on Children and Nature. This initiative was launched on June 21, 2007 and is chaired by Governors Schweitzer of Montana, Rendell of Pennsylvania, Rell of Connecticut, and Sanford of South Carolina.

The National Forum on Children and Nature will involve governors, mayors, corporate CEOs, heads of environmental organizations, and leaders from health and education institutions, and will invest several million dollars in projects with on-the-ground tangible results that address the issue of children’s isolation from nature.

The National Forum is now seeking project proposals.

3. The Hill School in Middleburg, Virginia is going full bore with an enhanced curriculum and continued landscape project, working with Stephen Kellert at Yale.

4. The Fish and Wildlife Service has identified "Connecting People with Nature" as a top priority. A Service work group is working to expand and enhance activities to reconnect kids and adults to nature.

"Sixty years ago, Rachel Carson wrote that wildlife refuges provide a 'release from the tensions of modern life,'" said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall. "They do that, and more. National wildlife refuges also promise outdoor adventure to children growing up in a digital age, whose idea of nature might be watching animals on television. Refuges offer the real thing."

The Service's National Wildlife Refuge System Week will take place October 7-13, with the theme: "Time to Connect With Nature". More here. And go visit a refuge soon.

There's lots more out there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Watchable Wildlife Conference Extra 2

The issue of Children and Nature is being discussed in Washington State at their 2007 Watchable Wildlife Conference, being held today and tomorrow. Organizers say the conference theme is entitled, “Pathways to Nature,” which will address the issue of reconnecting people with the outdoors.

Events themed on connecting people with nature are popping up all over the continent.

Food Extra

Burger King jumps on with healthy food for kids.

Just in Case you Missed this

My friend Keith at Carbon Nuetral Journal posted this a few days ago, and its worth repeating here.

Check out this NPR story, on Colorado Schools banning the playing of tag at school.

"Schools are finding more ways to protect your kids. Some schools limit the sodas kids may buy. Other schools say dodge ball is too dangerous. Now the Discovery Canyon Campus School in Colorado Springs, Colorado is banning tag. Officials say the game can lead to harassment. The assistant principal says students can still run; they just can't chase anybody. With that danger eliminated, kids have nothing to worry about except drugs, guns, and growing up."
This happening around the country, here's a blog post from last year on similar doings outside of Boston.

Sometimes you can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Front Page of the Washington Post Today

From the Post today, front page, more kids' health, this time talking about high blood pressure. They do make a mention of kids having less time outdoors.

"It often forces them to limit their daily activities," said Melinda Sothern of the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. "It robs them of their childhood, really. They're robbed of the natural enjoyment of being a kid -- being able to play outside, run, participate in gymnastics. If they have high blood pressure, they have a constant risk of stroke."

A vicious circle.

Check out this site, which has a lot of good ways to tackle this problem.

More From Maine

Maine seems to be a NDD hotspot, with lots of press and stories coming out over the last several months.

Here's the latest, from the paper.

"But what they lack is the ability to move and create games on their own," she said. "They're fine when there's an adult involved, telling everyone the rules. But they don't always know how to settle their squabbles on their own."

Tim Smith notices the same thing with his students at McMahon Elementary.

"Kids love to play these games, but they don't always know how to get started," he said. "But if a teacher walks out with a ball, they all gather around."

Hodgkin thinks that comes from kids not stepping away from an adult's gaze often enough. They miss out on opportunities to explore, scrape up their knees or get into fights with their friends."

Also in Maine, I came across this great story on taking kids hiking up Douglas Mountain near Sebago, Maine.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Extra on "Place"

Pete Wallace sitting on the Caretaker's Throne at sunset in the White Mts. NH

The New York Times had a neat article on the power of place in Sunday's paper.

At midnight I woke under a clear sky and gibbous moon and walk"ed along the brook. Much has happened in the Adirondacks — even here, where it seemed nothing had. My experience in, if not of, Panther Gorge fell short of James's, but I had no trouble imagining what he had felt.

Science recognizes no link between place and mind such as I had intuited years before, but those who know of his Walpurgisnacht will always imagine it there, where William James found the insight behind his best-known and most far-reaching work.

This article is a good complement to the chapters on the sublimity of nature in the Waterman's Forest and Crag, the definitive history of mountain recreation in the Northern Forest of NY and New England. And for added spice, read this essay about hiking the Cohos Trail in northern NH.

More on Unstructured Play

From the Midland, Texas paper, more on the issue of over scheduling here.

"Even preschoolers don't really need any structured activity, according to Doherty.

"You're not actually doing them any good beyond just playing. You have to ask yourself, why do it? It's social comparison," he said."

Sunday, September 9, 2007

More Declines

Brook on the St. John River, NW Maine

More evidence of a drop in Park attendance. This time the analysis is in Maine.

"But the declines in arguably Maine’s three flagship parks — Acadia, Baxter and the Allagash — over the past decade are striking.

The number of people using the Allagash declined nearly 70 percent between 1999 and 2005. Much of that drop is attributable to fewer day users of the wilderness waterway — a situation that has sparked several recent political and legal battles. But the number of total paid camping days slid roughly 33 percent during that period.

Visitation at Acadia dropped 23 percent between 1996 and 2006.

And while the number of people making the trek into Baxter appears to be inching back up or plateauing, last year’s figures were still 25 percent lower than a decade ago."

Americans are busier than ever, experts said. Combine that with rising gas and travel prices and many families — especially those with young children — may be less willing to use scant vacation time and money in the woods or on the water far from home.

"Maine is not alone in dealing with the fact that society is so overbooked and going so fast that they are not getting out and visiting the special places that they used to," said Eliza Townsend, deputy commissioner of the Maine Department of Conservation.

Consumers also are bombarded with advertisements for theme parks, resorts and family-oriented destinations. State and federal park systems, on the other hand, often have little to no money for marketing.

Aging baby boomers who were once gung-ho about a week in the woods may find their definition of a relaxing vacation changing.

"People may be looking for a softer landing at the end of a day than what a lean-to or a tent site offers," said Baxter director Jensen Bissell, who openly refers to his wilderness park as being "on the extreme end" of the recreational spectrum. "A hot tub or a glass of wine is perceived to be a good thing."

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Picture yourself walking on a crisp sunny day in New England, the foliage is peak, and the smell of cotton candy and BBQ chicken tempts you to find the source of the aroma. A rickety "Haunted House" sits in front of you, and the merry go round calliope is playing. In the stockyard a cow moos, and a kids walks by clutching what is likely to be his prime 4H rooster.

Or it's nighttime, and you are surrounded by neon lights and that ubiquitous cotton candy smell, greasy fries and grilled hot dogs. The ferris wheel looks a lot more tempting with all the lights.

photo by Art Levine

Depending on what region of the country you're in, the scene changes, based on the culture and character of the community.

That's what I remember whenever I went to a fair as a kid. Like drive-in theaters, a country fair or local VFD carnival may not be getting in touch with nature, but it harkens back to simpler, unstructured times, and with that justification, fairs seems like a good prescription to get a family out of the house.

Here's a link to find a fair in your area. And here's a link to the fair closest to our house in VA.

Friday, September 7, 2007

From The Shepherdstown Observer

I wrote a column on Children and Nature for the Shepherdstown Observer several months ago. It got a lot of good comments from readers. I was talking to the editor today about doing another piece, and I thought I would post the essay for this blog.

The first time I saw a bear, I was eight years old and camped out in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It was a moonless summer night and I beamed a flashlight across the campground road to see a big bear with his head all the way down into a bear- proof garbage can. I was fascinated and terrified at the same time.

That moment, more than 35 years in the past, remains vivid in my memory even today and it was only the start of many outdoor adventures both in my backyard woods and in wilderness places from Maine to the Arctic. Being outside has always been an important part of life.

But those formative years took place before the advent of computers, 24-hour news stations, and the Xbox. Today when most kids go outside they tend to be involved with organized sports. Gone for many are the days of riding your bike to town, catching frogs in the swamp, or waiting for the bus without parental supervision. These changes in our culture are beginning to have significant impact not only on how kids feel about the outdoors, but the state of children's health.

The media is filled with stories currently that focus on the decline of children's health. Childhood obesity, diabetes and attention deficit disorders seem to be increasing, due, at least in some part to the very different world our children are experiencing today. Gone are the days of going outside to play. Instead, the information age has provided our kids with an endless array of video games, HD televisions, and cell phone ring tones. One middle school student was recently quoted as saying he likes playing indoors because that's where the electrical outlets are.

“And why not play indoors?” say many parents. They are the ones that are bombarded daily with five channels of news, each trying to outdo each other presenting the latest shocking crime. “It's dangerous out there”, some say, “and our children are at risk from strangers like never before.” At least that's the impression you get from the daily news. Play outside unsupervised? Not likely these days. When kids are allowed outdoors, they are shuttled from home to the soccer field or dance studio, where structured activities and competition fill the hours.

What does all this mean? The bottom line is more children today are disconnected from nature than ever before. This disconnect is having negative impacts on their health and their feelings about the outdoors. If this trend continues, in 20 years we could live in a society where the life expectancy is less than today and the general population has no support for things like wildlife and national parks.

Remarking on this issue, the writer Robert Michael Pyle said, “What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known a wren?”

But there is hope. Richard Louv, a journalist from San Diego, published a book that has become the call to arms for this problem. Much like Rachel Carson's Silent Spring published more than four decades ago, Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder has sparked a new movement among a cross section of the American public. Educators, conservationists, health care workers and business people all are working together to find solutions, and ensure that our children do not lose touch with nature.

In September, a conference was held at the National Conservation Training Center that brought a diverse group of people interested in this topic together for the first time. Participants from around the country discussed why getting outside can be beneficial to the health of our children and also the future of our natural places.

The outcome of that gathering includes a number of local and national initiatives, including The National Forum on Children and Nature, a project being planned by The Conservation Fund. Connecticut’s “No Child Left Inside” program, also profiled at the conference, has already been a big success. The NCTC is also working on a number of projects, thanks to this being a high priority for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

There are a number of things that we can do today, in our own communities to keep our children connected with nature. First, read Louv’s book, which gives a great overview of the problem. Louv focuses on the health benefits of playing outside and remarks that it would be better for a doctor to prescribe outdoor play rather than drugs like Ritalin.

Second, get outside! The lessons learned from Connecticut’s program are important—by simply spending time outdoors with our kids, they will be more interested in nature and will want to spend more time away from the X-box. Take a bike ride on the C&O canal, or float the Potomac or Shenandoah. Watch the NCTC website for future events like speaker series, our annual open house, and other educational programs to help kids connect with nature.

Finally, get out for a weekend and go camping. There are many opportunities in our local area to spend the night out, and again, the benefits are huge, for you and your kids. And if your kids say, “we don’t want to go camping, there are bears out there”, to that statement, I reply, “that’s why we’re going.”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Nothing (organized) to do

Unscheduled time is the ticket. From the Seattle Times, commentary.
Our summer slogan was simple, and, some parents would say, suicidal. "Nowhere to go, nothing to do." Except for whatever we wanted, spontaneously, meanderingly. The way summer used to be.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

How Far is Too Far with Team Sports?

I recently heard about a book that took on the issue of kid's sports, and the degree to which they have changed over the past couple decades. Like technology and media, kids sports have become overwhelming and highly competitive in nature, squeezing out the unstructured time that is so important to kids.

This is an interesting topic to me, as I coached for several years at a boarding school, including a couple of undefeated seasons on the softball field and a n extremely rewarding three year stint as a girls ice hockey coach, even though our record was less than stellar. To me, the test was if you lose a game 12-0 and the players are still upbeat and ready for that next 5:30 AM practice call, you're doing ok. Winning was secondary to the experience. But things have changed since those coaching days in the late 80s. I'm sure we've all heard of the stories of bad, "win at all costs" coaches and obnoxious team parents ("your kid's screw ups are impacting my kid's chances of being the next Roger Clemens").

Despite the fact that the chances of any kid becoming as professional athlete are very small, parents and coaches are driving kids more than ever. This is in spite of the fact that only .08% of men's soccer players in high school would ever become professional, which translates to 8 in 10,000. It's 3 in 10,000 for a basketball player. Here's some backup info.

Not very good odds.

With this in mind, the book, Revolution in the Bleachers, written by Regan McMahon poses some important questions.

I remember the day it happened. It was yet another jam-packed Saturday morning, and my husband, Blair, and I were facing a logistical challenge to the space-time continuum sufficient to qualify us for the Rally of Monte Carlo. We had to get two kids to three games in 2 cities all before lunchtime. Hayley, then 11, had a soccer game at 9 in Alameda on Bay Farm Island, a lush, green soccer paradise on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay 20 minutes from our home near downtown Oakland. Kyle, then 14, had a soccer game at 10 in the Oakland Hills, 20 minutes in the opposite direction, at a junior college field surrounded by redwoods, laurel and eucalyptus, where just before turning into the parking lot you can catch spectacular views across the bay to the Golden Gate Bridge. I stuffed Hayley in the minivan and Blair whisked Kyle into the Honda. Gentlemen, start your engines.

When Hayley's game was finished we zoomed up to catch the rest of Kyle's game and then switch cars, so Hayley could change out of her soccer clothes into her volleyball uniform while her dad drove to her Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) game in East Oakland, fifteen minutes in yet another direction. En route she'd wolf down a sandwich I'd packed as she exchanged her shin guards for knee pads, while I dropped Kyle back home (luckily his baseball season was still three months away) and then rushed to her game, hoping to get there before the ref's whistle.

Somewhere between the girls' post-game snack on the island and the handoff in the hills, it hit me: This is nuts.

Like many folks, I have experienced the new "summer break" phenomenon, where each day is so structured with sports and other activities, that the days and weeks may be more hectic than during the school year. Author McMahon writes about this in a recent commentary.
For many kids, traditional nature-oriented summer camps have been superseded by sports camps. So instead of paddling a canoe and sleeping under the stars, children are focused on keeping their skills sharp and learning new strategies for winning. There's a high value placed on perpetually striving to be better and little value on just being.
I need to get the book and read it. Will report back on some thoughts once that's done.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

ON the other hand,

There are reports of children, rather, young adults, who are engaged in the environment, recognizing the threats for climate change and the need to live greener.

Unlike the back-to-the-land hippies of the 1960s, "students today want to make our urban areas better, and they're starting with their own halls and by asking campus dining facilities to support local farmers," says Michael M'Gonigle, a founder of Greenpeace International, eco- research chairman of environmental law and policy at the University of Victoria in Canada, and coauthor of "Planet U: Sustaining the World, Reinventing the University."
This is good news, and these kids are role models for their younger siblings. More at Grist.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Ten Percent

There are a lot of reasons for the decline in hunting cited Sunday in the Boston Globe. I would guess that changes in our society, loss of habitat, growth of the suburbs and exurbs have all contributed to this trend.

One thing for sure, whether you care for hunting or not, it is a key piece of American Conservation, now and in the past, and hunting can be an indicator of how engaged our children are in the outdoors. The key to continued hunting is children, and they are being "targeted" by state agencies to revive the sport.

However, hunting groups and state wildlife agencies are striving to reverse the decline by recruiting new hunters. Vermont's Game and Wildlife Department, for example, sponsors thrice-annual youth hunting weekends, offers low-cost youth licenses and teaches firearms safety and outdoor skills each summer at youth conservation camps.

Besides hunting, hiking, canoeing, photography, and fishing are important ways of keeping people connected with nature, but it would be a shame if hunting continues to decline. And I say that as a person who has never hunted, but has the utmost respect for those who hunt with a clean hunting ethic.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Outdoors on Labor Day Weekend

We had a yard sale yesterday, and we were really lucky. After a long summer of hot, humid weather, Saturday brought us a bright, sunny, dry day with temps just below 80. It was great to be out without the humidity.

Lots of folks came through our sale, and at the end of the day, a family of four stopped in. Mom, Dad and two small children. They were on their way back from a day trip to Sky Meadow State Park, a few miles southwest of our village and they saw our sign pointing to Unison off the main road.

With the huge sprawl of eastern Loudoun County, with its soccer fields, miles of housing, pitiful little mitigation "parks", and big malls, it was really great to see a family that had spent the day outside in a state park, for the benefit of themselves and their children.

Ashby Gap, just north of Sky Meadow State Park

The SF Gate has a follow up commentary on California's Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, which seems timely considering my observations on the family we met.

The Bill of Rights provides that every child between the ages of 4 and 14 should have opportunities to do the following:

1. Discover California's past. 2. Splash in water. 3. Play in a safe place. 4. Camp under the stars. 5. Explore nature. 6. Learn to swim. 7. Play on a team. 8. Follow a trail. 9. Catch a fish. 10. Celebrate his or her heritage.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The National Forum on Children and Nature

The National Forum is a partnership created by The Conservation Fund to support efforts to reconnect children to nature. Their goal is to select 20 projects by the end of 2008 in several categories, culture, education, built environment and health. Four advisory groups will screen projects and recommend finalists to the Forum board.

They are now accepting applications here.