Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

November 22, 2010

As a kid did you hear: “Go outside and play?”

News Release
Media Contact: Tom Harvey, 512-389-4453, tom.harvey@tpwd.state.tx.us 

Nov. 16, 2010

Texas Partnership for Children in Nature Calls For “Happier, Healthier, Smarter”
Kids
Statewide Conference Dec. 3-4 in Austin to Probe Problems, Solutions

AUSTIN — “Go outside and play.” How many times did today’s parents hear that
familiar phrase while growing up? Studies say kids today don’t hear it enough,
and that it’s time for a change.

Mobile devices and video games have all but replaced the days of playing “Kick
the Can” on neighborhood streets with friends, or just hanging out at a park all
day. In fact, kids today spend just four to seven minutes outside each day in
unstructured outdoor play (like climbing trees), yet more than seven hours each
day in front of an electronic screen.

“If we don’t address this issue today, then what we’re facing in the next
generation is that children will have a much shorter life span than their
parents,” said Dr. Kimberly Avila Edwards, a pediatrician at the Texas Center
for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity at Dell Children’s Medical
Center of Central Texas and chair of the Texas Pediatric Society obesity
committee.

Avila’s talking about the link between childhood obesity and sedentary indoor
lifestyles. She’s part of a growing chorus of expert voices from diverse
disciplines, all urging steps to reconnect kids and families with nature and the
outdoors.

The Texas Partnership for Children in Nature will host a conference to address
the problem Dec. 3-4 in Austin. The purpose is to present the partnership’s
strategic plan to educators, conservationists, health practitioners,
policymakers and others who care about the issue and can work to implement the
plan in their communities.

Conference speakers include Carter Smith, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
executive director; Joe Frost, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin professor
emeritus; Kevin Coyle, National Wildlife Federation vice president of education;
Elizabeth Goodenough, Ph.D., creator of the PBS documentary Where Do the
Children Play?; and Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas vice
president and chief medical officer and former Texas Department of State Health
Services executive director.

“As the trend away from outdoor play and learning deepens, we are witnessing
sobering consequences for children’s health and well-being,” said TPWD’s Smith.
“Additionally, this youngest generation is missing out on critical experiences
that lay the foundation for future stewardship of our natural resources.”

The good news: experts say the problem is solvable. Unlike complex environmental
or economic problems, getting families and children back to nature is relatively
straightforward and inexpensive. “We can reverse this trend,” Smith said. “We
can restore our children’s well-being and their relationship with Texas’s rich
natural and cultural heritage.”

The partnership’s roots trace to fall 2009, when a bi-partisan group of Texas
legislators asked TPWD, the Texas Education Agency, Texas Department of State
Health Services and Texas Department of Agriculture to form a public-private
partnership and develop a strategic plan. Over 80 professionals answered the
call, including representatives from state and federal agencies, non-profits,
businesses, and health, education, natural resource and community organizations.

Their discoveries include some sobering statistics:

Children ages 8-to-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day, over 50 hours per
week, connected to a television, computer, video games and other electronic
media.
A child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.
Texas is home to three of the five cities with the highest obesity rates in the
nation.
In the 2009-2010 Fitnessgram school year report, only a little over 8 percent of
12th grade girls and boys were deemed physically fit.
Today’s children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter
lifespan than their parents.
Conversely, experts found children who play and learn in nature are:

Healthier. Active nature play improves physical conditioning and has a positive
effect on emotional well-being and child development. Outdoor play has been
linked to reduced risk of myopia and vitamin D deficiency.
Happier. Nature play increases self esteem and reduces stress. Children learn
self-discipline and are more cooperative with others. Children feel more
capable, confident and connected to nature.
Smarter. Nature play stimulates creativity and improves problem solving. Schools
using environmental themes report improved academic performance. And, children
who play in nature are more likely to become tomorrow’s conservation leaders.
Author Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder” to describe the
situation in his best-selling book “Last Child in the Woods” (Algonquin Books,
2005). While the term isn’t a medical diagnosis, it cites evidence of
psychological, physical and cognitive costs associated with the lack of outdoor
time.

Experts have responded with practical solutions for parents and schools. For
example, the Texas Pediatric Society has developed a Childhood Obesity Toolkit
for health care providers that encourages limiting the time children spend on
TV, video games, and computers and promoting physical activity, including a
“healthy lifestyle prescription” that recommends an hour of outdoor play every
day.

The National Wildlife Federation recently released a comprehensive report “Whole
Child: Developing Mind, Body and Spirit through Outdoor Play” that details how
the benefits of playing outside are essential to not only physical wellness, but
also mental health. The report notes family time can be a child’s best bet to
connect with nature.

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