It was the summer vacation refrain echoed by a chorus of harried mothers across America for generations: “Go play outside.”
But violence in urban parks, a loss of stable neighborhoods, new digital devices and the frenetic pace of modern family life have led to a major shift in American children’s leisure lives. Today, only six percent of children aged 9-13 play outside on their own in a typical week; and kids 8 to 18 spend an overwhelming 53 hours each week using entertainment media*
This summer, The Nature Conservancy is encouraging local families to make time to simply … play outside.
In recent years, author Richard Louv has popularized the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the consequences of a childhood protected from the outdoors. Studies have sought to link unstructured outdoor play to lower obesity rates, a reduction in symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder and a general improvement in cognitive functioning.
“Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses,” wrote Louv, in his best-selling Last Child in the Woods.
Steve Long, of The Nature Conservancy, spent his first ten years in New York City before moving to rural New England, and the excitement of those early experiences with wild, unfettered nature has never left him; “You can jump on your bike and go explore and find critters. You’re not confined by fences.”
Long has raised his three children, now 10, 14 and 17, with an aim of providing experiences in nature, both within Greater Boston, and on longer trips into wild places with his family or the Boy Scout troop that he helps lead.
“It gives kids such a great appreciation of and connection to outdoor places,” he said. “If they don’t get the opportunity to experience nature early on, they might not seek it out when they’re older and set in their ways. Nature is all around us, we just have to make time to find it.”
Jody Calabro, mother of a four-year-old daughter, is channeling her concern about a lack of access to nature into creating a day camp for local children at in Brookline.
This week, Calabro will use a treasure hunt activity developed by The Nature Conservancy, to help her campers explore nature at a local park using all of their senses.
“She’s an urban kid, but I want her to be aware that there’s more to the world,” Calabro said.
*Sources: Children and Nature Network, Kaiser Family Foundation
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
Senior Media Relations Manager, The Nature Conservancy