Posts tagged ‘Children and Nature Network’

March 26, 2013

You Might Want to Sit Down for This…

by Melissa Harding

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It can be easy to spend most of the day sitting: drive to work, sit at your desk, drive home, sit at home. This is especially true in the winter, when cold temperatures make us feel sluggish, like hibernating bears. Even though it can be wonderfully relaxing to spend the evening hours reading a good book or watching a movie, it may actually be doing more harm than good. The phrase “sitting is the new smoking” is a buzzword in the health community, where more and more research is being done on what has been dubbed “the pandemic of inactivity”. Richard Louv, nature writer, advocate and director of the Children and Nature Network, has just published a short article compiling some recent findings. The results may just shock you right out of your seat.

The average American sits 9.3 hours every day. Out of 24 hours in a day, minus the average 7.7 hours for sleeping, we spend over half of our waking hours on our bottoms. Children, who often do not have control over their actions, have it even tougher. While adults can take a break to walk up and down the halls, take a walking meeting or do some stretching, children are expected to sit still for their entire day at school. Even going to the bathroom requires permission and a hallpass. Although some schools try to get kids moving, time spent in recess is a small portion of the day. That is not to mention the fact that even after work or school many of us spend our leisure time sitting in front of screens. Sitting is so pervasive and natural to us that we don’t question how much of it we should be doing.

So why is all of this sitting a problem? Recently The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, published a series of reports that confirm physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for deaths due to non-communicable diseases.  According to the New York Times, an Australian study found that for each additional hour of television watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11 percent.  Excessive sitting, which the study defines as nine hours a day, is a lethal activity.

While it may seem so, exercise is not the antidote to sitting. When a person is sitting, electrical activity in his muscles drops, which leads to harmful metabolic effects. His calorie-burning rate drops to about one per minute, a third of what it is walking. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing diabetes and obesity rises. This adds up over a lifetime. According to Harold “Bill” Kohl, professor of epidemiology and kinesiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health, “Although regular physical activity is critical for weight control, it is equally or more important for lowering risk of many different chronic diseases such as heart disease, some cancers, osteoporosis and diabetes.”

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Fortunately, there is a solution in sight for all of us: being outside. Nature-based exercise is good for adults and nature-based play is good for children. Some pediatricians and mental health professionals are now prescribing “green exercise” in parks and other natural settings. All this means is that kids should be engaging in more simple outdoor play, climbing trees and playing with sticks. Now that spring is around the corner, it is even easier to find fun things to do outside; planting seeds, stomping in mud puddles and hunting for blooming flowers are great April activities. No matter what outdoor activity sounds fun to you and your family, doing it together will help you stay healthier and more connected to nature.

Here are some resources to get both you and your child more active outside:
Nature Rocks: Find local natural areas, get ideas for fun outdoor activities and connect to other nature lovers
Children and Nature Natural Families Network: Learn how to start a nature club for kids and connect to other parents
Richard Louv’s Resource Supplement to Last Child in the Woods: Outdoor activities, book suggestions and helpful links
Simple Kids: Simple activity ideas to help your child explore the natural world
Home Connections: Try some of our ideas to combine outdoor exploration with fun activities

To learn more about how sitting effects your health, read the rest of Richard Louv’s article at the Children and Nature Network and check out the links to his sources scattered throughout this post.

The above photos are courtesy of brietbart.com via Google Images and Christie Lawry.

October 30, 2012

Creating a Naturalist

by Melissa Harding

Do you have fond, childhood memories of being outside – perhaps going hiking on family vacation, riding bikes in the driveway with friends or fishing with a grandparent? If you are an adult with a strong environmental ethic, than you probably do; most adults who hold pro-environmental attitudes can often trace the origin of these beliefs back to childhood experiences. Studies investigating the source of adult attitudes towards the environment have found that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted caregiver – a family member, a teacher or a parent – play the most important role in the formation of a conservation mindset (Chawla, 2009).

Not only are these outdoor memories important, but so is the aspect of mentoring that goes along with them. When adults identify critical figures in their childhood that influenced their current environmental values, they mention family members most often. They also cite that these values were conveyed indirectly rather than through direct teaching, such as through showing appreciation for nature, demonstrating acts of environmental stewardship and expressing delight in simply being outside. Some specific examples from participants include raising frogs, identifying plants and animals, fishing and berry-picking with parents and caregivers (Chawla, 2007). There is also evidence that outdoor experiences with friends, as well as teachers, are highly influential (Chawla, 2009). Overall, a child’s environmental values are formed by the child’s character, his response to the natural world and the influence of others.

For parents and other caregivers, this is another affirmation of the influence that you wield in the formation of your child’s attitudes. While this is a large responsibility, it doesn’t need to be scary. There are many different ways to give your child positive, memorable experiences that will last a lifetime. In fact, you are probably already doing it. Camping trips, bike riding in the park and pulling weeds in the garden all count.

If this is new to you, start simply; a trip to the park, putting up a bird feeder or caring for a houseplant are easy ways to share the natural world with your child. As mentioned here, going outside is a great first step; there is no need to go further than your backyard to observe nature at work. Don’t know much about plants or animals? Learning together with your child is a powerful experience to share rather than a deficit you need to overcome.

Here are some resources and ideas to help you make the most of your time outside:

Nature Rocks: Find local natural areas, get ideas for fun outdoor activities and connect to other nature lovers
Children and Nature Natural Families Network: Learn how to start a nature club for kids and connect to other parents
Richard Louv’s Resource Supplement to Last Child in the Woods: Outdoor activities, book suggestions and helpful links
Simple Kids: Simple activity ideas to help your child explore the natural world
Home Connections: Try some of our ideas to combine outdoor exploration with fun activities

This blog wants to help you get excited about shaping a new generation of conservationists. Not only will going outside together create an adult who loves the natural world, but it will also increase the already awesome bond that you share with your child.

Don’t wait; head outside today!

For further reading, here are the sources used in this post:
Chawla, L. (2009). Participation  as capacity-building for active citizenship. Les Ateliers de l’ Ethique, Spring issue.
Chawla, L. (2009). Growing up Green: Becoming an agent of care for the natural world. Journal of Developmental Processes. (4)1
Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

What is you and your child’s favorite activity to do together? Share it in the comments below!

The above images were taken by Christie Lawry, Amanda Joy and Melissa Harding.

August 20, 2012

Children with Disabilities and Nature

by Melissa Harding

The Children and Nature Network is at it again with another thought-provoking article. This time, the author is journalist William Stothers and the topic is how children with disabilities interact with nature. In My Feet, Six Inches from the Ground, Stothers writes about his struggle maintaining a connection to nature despite being bound to a wheelchair. As a child, Stothers loved to play outside, running through creeks and climbing trees. After a disabling bout with polio at the age of 10, he became wheelchair dependent. Being “6 inches from the ground” in his chair made him feel isolated from nature and his connection to the natural world declined.

“And there were many other “no mores”  No more wandering along the little creek, no more fishing from the bridge, no more exploring the woods, no more riding my bike. Now when I went out, someone pushed me in my wheelchair. My feet stayed put, about six inches off the grass, the sidewalk, the gravel roads. The natural world seemed to slip away, vibrancy fading out of touch. After a while I didn’t notice, caught up with just getting used to doing as much as I could on wheels.”   – William Stothers

As an adult, Stothers lived and worked in an urban environment for many years. It wasn’t until he discovered his love of photography that he started to rekindle his relationship with the land.

Stothers asserts that children with disabilities tend to be more isolated than their non-disabled peers and that having ready access to nature is one way to combat that tendency. He says that teaching children how to interact with the natural world is important to their health and well-being. As environmental educators, this article is a reminder for us to always consider the ways in which we can continually connect all of our students, disabled and not, to the natural world.

“My feet continue to skim six inches above the grass. Still, I can stick my nose closer to the roses in my front yard and take in the perfume. I can rub my hands over the bark on the big tree in my back yard. And even though the techs tell me not to, I can’t stop powering through puddles. Splashing and grinning.”  – William Stothers

For more information on organizations that help people with disabilities gain greater access to nature, check out the websites at the bottom of Stother’s article.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

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