I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

August 21, 2010

Nature: an antidote for what ails us?

Sites for children to learn more about nature

In a post from last spring, I discussed what some people have called “Nature Deficit Disorder” and how that could be another factor contributing to increased obesity rates, a decline in mental well-being, decreased happiness, and other problems.  Here are some resources that could help counter that.

Discover the Foresthttp://www.discovertheforest.org/

A USDA Forest Service website, sponsored in part by Dreamworks (if you’ve seen the public service announcement, you know that Shrek is part of this campaign) and The North Face.

Includes information on:

  • Where to Go – Find Forests and Parks (based on the National Wildlife Federation’s NatureFind app – see below)
  • What to Do – Forest Snapshot game, animal sounds, animal tracks, tree leaves, how to use a compass, how to become a Junior Forest Ranger.

Note about the Forest Snapshot Game: Kids have an opportunity to upload photos of their own.  This may not be widely known, but GPS-enabled cameras and smartphones can embed locational data in photos.  If they or you are posting such pictures on the Web, you are letting EVERYONE know where you live.  There are supposed to be ways to disable that feature, so if you’re concerned about that you might want to consider turning disabling that before you basically upload information about where you live to the Web.  (For more information on potential problems resulting from posting locational information, see the Please Rob Me website.)

That said, this is a neat idea.  (Note: The game took a minute or two to load on my PC.)

Provides links to resources, information on getting kids outdoors more (and maybe yourself, too!)

  • The Why page links to nature websites and tips on how to enjoy nature without ruining it.

Children and Nature Initiative

One of the Discover the Forest campaign’s recommended sites is the National Environmental Education Foundation’s Children and Nature Initiativehttp://neefusa.org/health/children_nature.htm

NEEF’s Children and Nature Initiative, launched in May 2010, addresses two important issues—preventing serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes and reconnecting children to nature. Research indicates that unstructured outdoor activities may improve children’s health by increasing physical activity, reducing stress, and serving as a support mechanism for attention disorders. The Children and Nature Initiative educates pediatric health care providers about prescribing outdoor activities to children. The program also connects health care providers with local nature sites, so that they can refer families to safe and easily accessible outdoor areas.

A fact sheet on Children’s Health and Nature describes benefits of children’s exposure to the natural environment and includes recommendations from the CDC, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association and American College of Sports Medicine.

Problems that may be caused by (or at least exacerbated by) a lack of outdoor activity

  • Childhood obesity
  • Attention disorders
  • Vitamin D deficiency

The fact sheet includes summaries of research showing connections between nature and health.

Unstructured outdoor play time is important for children’s overall well-being. How does nature play a role in children’s health? The fact sheet describes highlights from the published literature on the health benefits of the natural environment.  Free play is important.

Resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

CDC’s National Trail Days website – http://www.cdc.gov/Features/ParksAndTrails/
Physical activity guidelines for children and adolescentshttp://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm

  • Includes a Youth Physical Activity Guidelines Toolkit available for downloading

Tread Lightly

Tread Lightly on Land and Water – http://www.treadlightly.org/ – is a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote responsible outdoor recreation through ethics education and stewardship.  Learn simple ways to minimize your impact on the environment when engaging in outdoor activities.

Tread Lightly’s Tips for Responsible Recreationhttp://www.treadlightly.org/page.php/education-recreationtips/Recreation-Tips.html

Children and Nature Networkhttp://www.childrenandnature.org/

Described in an article in the Kiwi magazine blog, The Whole Child: Prescription for Playhttp://kiwimagonline.com/kiwilog/the-whole-child/the-whole-child-prescription-for-play
C&NN Bloghttp://www.childrenandnature.org/blog/
Nature Clubs for Families Toolkithttp://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/NCFF_toolkit.pdf

HEALTH BENEFITS TO CHILDREN FROM CONTACT WITH THE OUTDOORS & NATURE

http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/C&NNHealthBenefits.pdf
Includes literature reviews  and overview documents as well as summaries of articles describing benefits of children’s contact with the outdoors on children’s mental and physical health.

This document notes:

There is a strong body of evidence attributing improved health with physical activity. In addition, there is evidence suggesting that nature specifically can improve attention and other psychological aspects of health. Playing in nature can positively impact children’s health and well-being.

National Wildlife Federation’s “Green Hour” Campaign

http://www.nwf.org/Get-Outside/Be-Out-There/Why-Be-Out-There/What-is-a-Green-Hour.aspx

NWF NatureFindhttp://www.nwf.org/naturefind/ – Lets you search for activities from a wide variety of sites.  Most are outdoor, but they also include events at sites like museums, botanical gardens, and nature centers.

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