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April 11, 2008

Going Green

This Friday I attended Nature, Children and Families: A Necessary Connection, a conference and workshop sponsored by the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the Minnesota Council on Family Relations. A researcher at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Andrea Faber Taylor, presented evidence based on studies that show contact with nature is a necessity for all healthy children.

As Dr. Taylor explained, the idea is not rocket science.  The majority of her audience being educators, park and recreation specialist, nature center staff and urban liaisons – most of us weren’t there to get her carefully researched statistics.  We were however a captive audience listening to her expert advice on ways to get our children out of the house, away from the TV and into nature.

Think about when you were a child. How much time was spent outdoors? How much time did you spend watching TV or playing video games?  I’m only 25 and I remember picking my favorite television programs for the week. My carefully regulated TV time totaled 30-60 minutes a day at most – about 7 hours a week. According to co-presenter Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, a professor at the University of Minnesota, children today are watching up to 45 hours of TV a week! That’s almost more time than I log creating my lesson plans and teaching in my pre-k classroom!!! I was floored.

Here’s the deal: the time children spend out and about in nature is rapidly declining. You’ve heard the excuses: “It’s too cold,” “It’s not safe for my kids to play outside in our neighborhood,” or the classic, “I just don’t have time.”

Not to fret though, there’s an old Norwegian saying that goes, “There’s no such thing as bad weather – just bad clothes.”  Not taking time now equates to big losses in the end.  Being in nature helps your child’s physical health, strengthens their mental capacity and improves their concentration.  Children that spend time in and around green spaces are more attentive, have less impulsive activity and greater self-discipline. They’re also more likely to care for the earth throughout their lives – a major benefit considering our country’s environmental crisis.

Safety in our ever-changing world is and will continue to be a valid concern.  While child abductions are down since the 1970’s, neighborhood violence throughout our nation is on the rise.  If you are concerned about safety in your neighborhood, look for green spaces that are well populated and patrolled by park officials or police officers.  Even jump roping in your driveway or outside the front door of your apartment is a possibility.  Just make sure there is parental supervision, a previously designated “safe spot” to go to if someone is lost or hurt, and a friend that knows you and your child’s whereabouts.  Also, don’t forget your first aid kit! 

One more piece of advice: check out your green space before bringing a child to it.  Take note of the layout and look at the grounds and the equipment.  If you don’t feel comfortable, try another green space around your town or city. 

Give it a try!  Going green’s never felt so good.  And tell us how it went after you make your way back to the computer!


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