Back to Basics: Getting the Kids Outside

My 2nd grader will be home from school soon. It’s a beautiful day and I am anticipating my daily challenge of getting him outdoors. Up until the last year and a half, he was perfectly content to play outside. Even by himself (he’s our only child). With certain friends, imagination led them to dig, play with trucks, dig some more, play hide and seek or tag. As they’ve gotten older, they’ve gotten bored faster out there, climbing the occasional tree before badgering me every 15 minutes with, “Have we been out here long enough yet?” The good news is they’re not begging to watch TV or play video games. They just want to play in the sea of Legos that is Ethan’s room.

Hold on. The bus just dropped Ethan off. I will try to catch him on video for his reaction to playing outside today…

Is it me, or did it seem like I was trying to capture a comment from a corrupt politician?

When I was Ethan’s age, we were carefree and just played outside. Even in the winter when it was 20 below we stayed out until our fingers and toes were numb. It was the thing to do. And we had fun, darn it! Granted, I wasn’t an only child, but I wasn’t always playing with my brothers, either. I could play outside with my Barbies or pretend I was Agent 99 from Get Smart. My parents would have to call to us in more than once–finally resorting to yelling–before we’d go inside.

Today’s children are the first generation ever to grow up isolated from nature–outdoor time for kids has decreased by more than 50%; and, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, kids spend, on average, more than six hours per day with electronic media. This trend has galvanized groups like the No Child Left Inside Coalition (NCLI) and American Recreation Coalition. The National Wlidlife Foundation’s  Green Hour Campaign gives parents and caregivers the information, tools, and inspiration to get their kids — and themselves — outside.

On Earth Day 2009, historic legislation was introduced to the Senate: No Child Left Inside Act. If passed, this act will mark the first environmental education legislation to pass Congress in more than 25 years.

The bill authorizes new funding for states to provide high-quality, environmental instruction. Funds would support outdoor learning activities both at school and in non-formal environmental education centers, teacher professional development, and the creation of state environmental literacy plans.

“Environmental education must be a part of the formal pre-K-12 education system if we are to fully prepare students to become lifelong stewards of our ncompete in a green economy,” Congressman John Sarbanes (D-MD) said.

Click here to write a letter, urging your member of Congress to co-sponsor this important legislation.

I decided I needed to get to the bottom of why playing outside had become more of a chore for Ethan. It took a few dollars, but he finally agreed to a formal interview. Here it is, starting with the question of why, now that he’s “older”, he seems to get bored outside at a much faster rate.

Many children are involved with sports, which certainly helps get the kids outside. But sports are not Ethan’s thing. He likes to say, “I was born to play Legos and cook.” Ethan did recently show an interest in basketball, so we bought him a basketball hoop. Every day for the first week all he wanted to do was play hoops. By himself, with others, it didn’t matter. But the novelty has worn off.

I think my challenge is a bit trickier because I have an only child. I’m not going to let that be my excuse. I, together with my husband, have to put forth a little extra effort and, well, use our imagination. Not only because I’m an eco.mom, but because outdoor play offers many benefits:

  • Daily unstructured free play improves children’s physical and mental health
  • Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative, less aggressive and show better concentration
  • Outdoor experiences and education enhances children’s ability to learn and retain knowledge
  • Outdoor experiences build a conservation ethic and concern for the natural world.

Update Sept 6th: Ethan was outdoors practically all the time this summer. I think he had the end-of-school attitude at the time of this interview. He has mastered scootering and just learned to ride his bike! I will do a follow-up interview soon!

2 Responses

  1. […] Can Inspire Us – Part One Posted on August 19, 2009 by Lynn Hasselberger My son, Ethan, inspired–and continues to inspire–me to do what I do. What about other parents? Were […]

  2. […] while sleeping, he would do it. (This is the same son who, at the start of summer break, thought spending his time outdoors was going to be boring).Off they went, happy as could be. I watched them from an upstairs window as […]

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