Chil­dren and na­ture

Speaker talks about need for new city park

The Covington News - - OPINION - By Jenny Thompson jthomp­son@cov­

Peo­ple who grew up be­fore the cel­lu­lar, In­ter­net and dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion most likely of­ten heard their moth­ers or fa­thers say, “go out­side and play and don’t come home un­til it’s dark.”

How­ever tech­nol­ogy, test scores and fear are pre­vent­ing the chil­dren of to­day from mak­ing mud pies, rac­ing bi­cy­cles and climb­ing trees.

Friends of New­ton Parks and Friends of the Li­brary, along with more than a dozen other or­ga­ni­za­tional spon­sors, hosted guest speaker Ch­eryl Charles Tues­day evening at the New­ton County Pub­lic Li­brary.

“For the very first time in all of hu­man his­tory chil­dren are not play­ing out­doors reg­u­larly,” Charles said.

Charles is pres­i­dent and co-founder of the Chil­dren & Na­ture Net­work, an or­ga­ni­za­tion which seeks to re­con­nect chil­dren to the great out­doors, which was spawned by the Richard Louv book “Last Child in the Woods.”

“The pur­pose of this gath­er­ing is to in­crease aware­ness and sup­port for our park we’ll build be­hind the li­brary,” said Bar­bara Morgan, pres­i­dent of Friends of New­ton Parks.

Charles and her col­leagues ad­vo­cate re­search which shows chil­dren who spend time out­side are health­ier, hap­pier and do bet­ter in school.

Louv, also co-founder of the C&NN, coined the term “na­ture deficit dis­or­der” to de­scribe the neg­a­tive ef­fects less time out­doors has on chil­dren.

“Richard is the first per­son to say na­ture deficit dis­or­der is not a med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis,” Charles said. “It’s just a term.”

To­day far less chil­dren walk or ride bi­cy­cles to school, partly be­cause schools are too far away from their home.

Charles said chil­dren play­ing out­doors less could ex­plain in­creased per­cent­ages of obese chil­dren over the past few decades. She cited one study which stated only 4 per­cent of chil­dren ages 8 to 18 were obese in the 1960s, were as now the na­tional av­er­age hov­ers around 20 per­cent.

With obe­sity comes a variety of other health prob­lems such as high choles­terol, child­hood di­a­betes and a num­ber of heart-re­lated ail­ments.

Video games, theWeb and iPods have also lead chil­dren to lead more seden­tary life­styles.

“I’m not anti-tech­nol­ogy, but re­search is show­ing that chil­dren ages 8 to 18 are spend­ing 40 to 60 hours a week hooked into what I call the ‘elec­tronic um­bil­ica,’” Charles said.

Re­searchers of the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy on chil­dren have also pointed to the rise in the di­ag­no­sis of hy­per­ac­tiv­ity and At­ten­tion Deficit Dis­or­der.

Charles men­tioned a study which sug­gested symp­toms of ADD could be mit­i­gated by reg­u­lar ex­po­sure to na­ture. She added pe­di­a­tri­cians should per­haps pre­scribe out­door play rather than pills for be­hav­ioral af­flic­tions.

She also said schools have lost ground in na­ture ed­u­ca­tion in the last ten years, and many el­e­men­tary schools do not even of­fer re­cess any­more be­cause rig­or­ous stan­dards have to be met and dozens of tests taken.

How­ever, Charles again ref­er­enced a study show­ing science scores on stan­dard­ized tests in­creased 27 per­cent when chil­dren learned in out­door class­rooms. Coin­ci­den­tally, New­ton County stu­dents scored low­est on the science por­tion of the Cri­te­rion-Ref­er­enced Com­pe­tency Test and on the Ge­or­gia High School Grad­u­a­tion Test.

Charles said lo­cal board of ed­u­ca­tions are the av­enue to ap­prov­ing more out­door ed­u­ca­tion, but that par­ents needed to take the ini­tia­tive in do­nat­ing ma­te­rial or pick­ing up a ham­mer for the con­struc­tion or plant­ing of out­door class­rooms or green spa­ces.

An­other re­port men­tion by Charles showed one-third of par­ents cited they did not let their child play out­side be­cause they were afraid of child ab­duc­tion. Charles said the me­dia has skewed the fre­quency of th­ese oc­cur­rences in the coun­try.

Par­ents are also guilty of over-struc­tur­ing their chil­dren’s ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties, which does not leave them enough im­por­tant free-time to ex­plore the wilder­ness as they choose.

She added what chil­dren see on television and what they do not learn in school leads them to be scared of what they may find in the woods.

Charles said all ages need to en­joy the great out­doors, not only chil­dren.

“Some say it’s built into us as part of our DNA,” Charles said.

Stud­ies cite hospi­tal pa­tients re­port­ing less pain and log­ging shorter stays when they had an out­side view.

Also, two iden­ti­cal project build­ings in Chicago stood side by side, but one had trees planted around it while the other was all con­crete. Fewer in­stances of crime and higher self-es­teem was re­ported at the one with trees

She said healthy com­mu­ni­ties are the foun­da­tion of peace, and healthy com­mu­ni­ties started with healthy chil- dren.

“All th­ese risks in­di­cate that this will be the first gen­er­a­tion that does not live as long as their par­ents, and I think that’s not the legacy we want to leave,” Charles said. “I want our gen­er­a­tion to be the one that leaves a legacy of lead­er­ship and ecol­ogy of hope.”

Charles con­cluded by say- ing she felt hope­ful New­ton County could shift the di­rec­tion of some of the trends she men­tioned in her speech with the con­struc­tion of the com­mu­nity park be­tween the li­brary and the New­ton County Men­tal Health Fa­cil­ity.

Plans for the park in­clude three ex­plo­ration trails, a splash foun­tain, a gar­den in the ru­ins of a his­toric home, an am­phithe­ater, a sto­ry­telling cir­cle, a large tree house, a splash foun­tain, huge chimes and 10 ex­er­cise sta­tions.

The park, born out of the de­sire of res­i­dents Mike and Kelli Hop­kins for their daugh­ters who use wheel­chairs, will cater to all gen­er­a­tions and abil­i­ties.

The great out­doors: The na­tional “No Child Left Inside” move­ment was largely in­spired by the Richard Louv book “Last Child in the Woods: Sav­ing our Chil­dren from Na­ture-Deficit Dis­or­der.”

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