On Monday (9/25) we celebrate National Public Lands Day (www.publiclandsday.org) AND Nature Rocks Day (www.naturerocks.org), not to mention that the whole week is Take a Child Outside Week (www.takeachildoutside.org). All these themed-dates raise awareness about the importance of our natural world and connecting all generations to it. Why is it so important that we emphasize conservation and outdoor activities?
Scientific studies show that when kids spend more time outdoors they are better able to concentrate in school, they exhibit fewer behavioral issues, their health (esp. asthma and stress-related conditions) improves and they lose more weight. Those are all very valuable benefits, but to me the most important thing that happens when children get outside is that they learn to appreciate the natural world. They see that a flower is worthwhile because it is beautiful, smells good and provides food for insects. They see that a stream is valuable because it provides a home for many animals. They see a forest and know that it is more than just the money that can be made by harvesting the timber. If we don’t build that appreciation at a young age, chances are it won’t develop when they are adults. By then they are so busy with the day-to-day of life: working, cooking, cleaning, shopping, driving, on and on: that they can’t stop and appreciate the world for what it is. So, whether you have a child of your own, or a niece, nephew, cousin or friend’s kid, get them outside next week and in the weeks to follow.
What can you do when you’re out there? Where can you go if you live in a very urbanized environment? No matter where you live you can find some special place within walking distance (or a short bus trip). Go into your backyard, to a local park, along a tree-lined street, visit a farm or even a zoo – anywhere there is some greenery, animals and insects. Sit in a quiet place and listen to the world around you. What do you hear, other than any passing cars or planes? Get close down to the ground – what do you see? Bring a journal or sketch pad and have them draw or write a story about their discoveries. Play a game of “I spy” but use only living things. For more fun activities, visit the links listed above.
For those above the age of 18, you can enjoy the outdoors too! Now’s a great time to go shopping for a bike or kayak; as the season comes to a close you can find some good bargains! Consider buying used – there are some good websites to find bikes and outdoor equipment that people are tired of. Their loss is your gain and by buying used you’ll help reduce the amount of new STUFF that we add to this already crowded planet. FYI: a great website for learning about our obsession with stuff is www.thestoryofstuff.com. But you don’t need much stuff to enjoy the outdoors. A pair of shoes will suffice. Go for a walk and search for little signs of nature all around you. You’ll be surprised to find it in some peculiar places.
We spend too much time inside, both in buildings and in vehicles. We need to get outside! We will be healthier, happier and more in-tune with the natural world – a world that we are part of, believe it or not. Next week is a big week for getting outdoors, but it should be the start of a lifelong experience, not just one week out of many.