By Dave Bauer
Do you remember as a child playing outside from sunrise to sunset? Being outdoors awakened a feeling of freedom within us during childhood.
When we look around us today, we might ask, as Cat Stevens wondered in song, “Where will the children play?” The neighborhood parks, creeks, forests and other natural spaces are calling out for them. Research done by the Nature Conservancy shows the vast majority of today’s kids use a computer, watch TV or play video games on a daily basis, but only about 10 percent of the kids are spending time outdoors every day.
Why? Lack of access to natural areas and discomfort with the outdoors are two primary factors identified by the conservancy’s poll.
American children spend an average of only about four to seven minutes outside on a daily basis. With the development of technology, our children’s attention is captured by a new feature – the electronic screen. Time spent using electronic devices can add up to seven to 10 hours a day for our children.
There are many engaging ways to be outside with children that have no or low cost. A first step can be into your own backyard. See what parts of nature await discovery in your immediate surroundings, and let your child(ren) lead you on an adventure. I call this practice creative nature play, which is simply unstructured play and develops from the child’s natural creativity and curiosity.
Often, with my grandchildren, I am gifted with their capacity to ask intriguing nature questions. One recent example: my grandson asked, “Papa, what are those tiny wiggly things in your backyard fountain?” Turns out he was discovering mosquito larvae. It’s the everyday places where you will find the richest and most available sources of intrigue.
Backyards, puddles and moist earth under rocks are full of nature discoveries for younger children. If you seek to venture out just a bit, Tifft Nature Preserve, Reinstein Woods or any wetland are great places for nature adventures.
When the outdoors becomes a pivotal part of a child’s learning, there is a myriad of benefits. The child experiences growing kinesthetic abilities, physical activity, improved nutrition, greater comfort in social relationships, less stress and a healthy capacity for psychological balance. Authors Richard Louv (“Last Child in the Woods”) and Scott Sampson (“How to Raise a Wild Child”) serve as experts in mobilizing this change movement for our children.
With a child in your life, spend 30 minutes a day and a few days a week outdoors in nature play. When we serve this role, we too will find a sense of connection to the child and the earth, and a satisfying calmness.
Let’s create those places where the children can play.
Dave Bauer, of Williamsville, is a retired environmental science teacher, author of “What’s Under That Rock, Papa?” and founder of Creative Nature Play.