We know the scene all too well: It’s just after school, and after a frazzled day of work, multi-tasking and activity shuttling, everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the school packs get dumped at the door and the kids instinctively head to play Minecraft or watch TV. In today’s frenetic world, it’s easy for kids – and parents – to slip into inside activities…and stay there.
Visceral video games. Prolific technology. Narrow school curriculums that ditch arts and science for test scores: Just like the vanishing of the bees, fingers are pointing to these trends as the culprits of the collapse of the culture of free play, connection to nature and a rise in ADHD and other health issues in kids. Even Bend kids, growing up with unparalleled outdoor opportunities aren’t exempt from the disturbing national statistics of childhood obesity, with 21% of 9th graders overweight or at risk for obesity in Deschutes County. (Oregon Health Teen Survey (OHT), 2007 and 2008)
Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, coined the concept “Nature Deficit Disorder” as a call to action to reverse the impacts today’s modern age is having on kids. Under ‘virtual house arrest’, Louv states, they need creative, outdoor play more than ever: Childhood health issues have been shown to be linked with less time outside, so it follows that many studies have shown encouraging evidence that playing outside, unstructured play and nurturing environments can impact youth significantly, including improving their resilience (McArdle, Harrison (2013) and ability to self-direct. (Barker, Semenov, et. al., (2014).
Parents need not panic! Thankfully, there are tons of local resources and simple ways to help kids reconnect with nature and lead a healthy lifestyle with a healthy dose of exploring outdoors. No need to launch a major expedition to infinity and beyond to be physically active and find nature. Thanks to our local youth programs, parks and good old Mother Nature herself, there are plenty of opportunities and activities your family can plug into to encourage a more natural, outside-driven and healthy lifestyle, right outside your door.
Easy Ways for Families to Turn Off Technology and Tune In
- Build a Fort…and You Can’t Do Your Homework Until You Do! Create a routine where kids have to be outside for a minimum of 20 minutes a day.
- Nature-spotting: Pack a picnic, pick a natural setting and hang out. Skip rocks. Go nature-spotting on bikes. Try Riverbend Park, the Deschutes Canal, Shevlin Park, Drake Park and Pilot Butte. Keep a family log of the birds, insects and animals you find.
- Not All Who Wander Are Lost: Naturehoods Children’s Forest has started “Naturehoods” at local parks and natural spaces that don’t require driving. (Check out Ponderosa Park’s Kid-Created Interpretive Trail!) Start your own NatureHood project at your nearby park or abandoned lot near your house. Show kids how to safely bike or walk to them –independently!
- Plant a Seed. At home, all you need is a flower pot and a few seeds for homegrown horticulture and an up-close encounter with nature at work. For inspiration, check out Hollinshead Community Garden where families can adopt their own garden plot!
- Charades, anyone? Designate family movie night. It may be painful at first, but try to pare back screen time and carve out more connecting time by choosing one night per weekend for media.
Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv, 2005