Kids Need More Time Outside

I don’t know about you, but when I was a child and my mother said, “Go outside and play,” it was usually a loaded command. She always meant for me to enjoy the great outdoors. More often than not, though, I’d been creating havoc indoors and she needed some peace and quiet to get her house chores done. Luckily for me, I lived in towns much like Clinton and Laurens where there were plenty of good people, ample areas to play outside beyond my own yard, and woods within easy reach when my friends and I wanted a forest adventure. Of course, it was good that my family spent time together outdoors. Scouting was a big help, also. Children learn best experientially and by example. By contrast, many young people today are growing up with little exposure to the great outdoors. Recent studies show that American kids now spend 2.5 hours a day outside. That means 90% of their daily time is spent indoors! How are they spending their time? Youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend 50 hours per week on some device, 17.5 hours per week outside, and negligible time in the natural world experiencing nature and its life forces. The result is that today’s youth are increasingly alienated from the natural world and its ways, a world that provides the basic services we all need to survive, things like clean air to breath, uncontaminated water to drink, healthy food to eat, and raw materials to create shelter and make a living. They are estranged from the wondrous array of other life forms—plant and animal—that share God’s good Earth. In the words of Richard Louv, America’s children are suffering from a “nature deficit disorder,” and unless they come to understand and care about the environment that makes their lives sustainable, they will not care for the earth or any other life forms in it, even their own. This lack of exposure to the natural world comes at a high cost to the health and well-being of our children and our communities. Attention deficit, depression, myopia, obesity, and disrespect for life have all been connected with insufficient “outdoor” time. On the other hand, interaction with nature has been shown to improve attentiveness, reduce anxiety and stress, stimulate intellectual curiosity and self-awareness, raise academic performance, contribute to the eye’s healthy development, improve physical fitness and psychological soundness, and enhance self-respect and respect for others. It’s no accident that children in Finland produce the highest global test scores or that its population is the most literate in the world. School children spend 15 minutes per hour outdoors and outdoor education is part of the curriculum. Even more, the natural world inspires faith, which is why John Muir called the earth “God’s cathedral” and commanded, “Let children walk with Nature.” As the Apostle Paul knew, God’s eternal power and divine nature are evident in creation (Rom 1:20). To be sure, adults need to safeguard the children of our communities by looking after them and showing them how to be safe indoors and outdoors. But children are born naturalists, inclined to explore and wonder about everything, and we ought to do whatever we can to help them learn all they can about the natural world that sustains their lives and communities. Let’s do what we can to help children have ample quality time outdoors. And if we tell them to go outside and play, let’s go with them. Why not take a child on a hike here in Laurens County? (In this column, “Nature’s Calling!,” Dr. Bob Bryant will be offering information and thoughts on a broad range of topics on the outdoors, especially for the people and communities of Laurens County.)

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