Friday, January 30, 2009

Take your kids outside


"Eventually, most of us figure out that it's people, not nature, who create morality, values, ethics and even the idea that nature itself is something worth preserving. We choose to be shepherds and stewards, or we don't ... We will live wisely—preserving water and air and everything else intrinsic to the equation we're only beginning to understand—or we won't, in which case Nature will fill the vacuum when we leave."

Seth Norman, in Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" (2006)

In "Last Child in the Woods," author Richard Louv outlines the negative consequences of a generation of children growing up more removed from the outdoors than their parents and grandparents were. Not only does this threaten our heritage of respect for and understanding of our natural resources, but studies show a strong correlation between playing outdoors and healthy minds and bodies. In fact, studies have shown that more brain learning occurs when children are outside interacting with nature than when they watch television.

Over the past few years, a nationwide grassroots movement has arisen in response to Louv's book, called the Children in Nature Network. Idaho has taken a lead in promoting this, creating a multi-partner, multi-stakeholder coalition called the Idaho Children in Nature Network. I am proud to join Gov. and Mrs. Otter, the administrations and faculty of Boise State University and University of Idaho, agencies, businesses, schools and individuals across Idaho in promoting this important effort to get Idaho's children outside. ICNN's Be Outside campaign kicks off on Jan. 30.

Growing up in southeastern Idaho, I learned about the outdoors while hunting and fishing with family and friends. As a father, I've spent time with my children, doing the same activities. Being outside is critical for children. More young people are obese and suffer from diabetes and depression than ever before. Symptoms of attention deficit disorders are widespread, affecting children at school and at home. Studies are reinforcing what many of us, our parents and grandparents know: Getting kids outside improves overall wellness, keeping children more physically fit and reducing symptoms of depression and attention disorders. The natural world has many lessons to teach children, from the cycle of life and death to a better understanding of our place in this world.

While organized youth sports are vital to communities and provide valuable exercise and socialization opportunities for children, the focus of Be Outside is to get kids outdoors in unstructured play—interacting with nature: trees, water, rocks and, yes, even dirt! ICNN includes over 100 diverse agencies, organizations and private citizens coming together to "connect children with nature in Idaho, from backyards to mountaintops." The coalition includes partners from education, health care, sportsmen and women, outdoor recreation, conservation, local, state and federal agencies, community leaders and businesses. The coalition will work to improve integration of environmental education and create public-private partnerships to harness resources and foster cooperation, while emphasizing Idaho's unique outdoor heritage. The end goal: to improve our children's well-being and encourage a lifelong appreciation and respect for our great outdoors. This is one of the best ways to ensure long-term environmental stewardship.

Getting kids outside can be as simple as having them play in the backyard, park or open space. Working together to provide opportunities beyond that only increases the positive outcomes. Many Idaho children are raised to appreciate the outdoors; the goal of Be Outside is to provide even more children with these opportunities.

This winter, and in the coming spring, summer and beyond, I hope you find time to Be Outside with the children in your life.

Mike Crapo is Idaho's senior senator. He is a Republican.

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