A survey conducted in Britain has unearthed some disturbing facts: 64% of children play outside less than once a week, 28% of them haven’t been on a country walk during the past year, and 20% of them haven’t ever climbed a tree.
As a result, these kids also have some odd ideas about the Great Outdoors: they believe, for example, that cows hibernate in winter, and they can more readily identify a Dalek than an owl.
The survey of 2,000 eight-to-twelve-year-olds for the TV channel Eden was reported in The Guardian last week. It also revealed that the distance British children stray from home on their own has shrunk by 90% since the 70′s. And did you know that more children are now admitted to British hospitals for injuries incurred falling out of bed than falling out of trees?
The irony is that modern kids are more likely than previous generations to understand concerns about the environment and their roles in preserving it. And that’s important. But if a child can describe how global warming is affecting our planet but can’t remember the last time he explored woods or a beach, he’s not likely to genuinely care about nature.
And before we dismiss this report as irrelevant to the U.S., let’s check out the latest report from the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that the average eight-to-eighteen-year-old American now spends more than 53 hours a week “using entertainment media.” Presumably they are not doing that outside.
One thing is clear: this is not about the fact that kids don’t know a bluejay from a sparrow. Scientists, doctors, and mental health experts have been realizing for a while that when kids stop going out into the natural world to play, it affects both their healthy development and society as a whole.
The list is long: “Children will be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors,” stated one study published by the American Medical Association in 2005.
Most of us parents and teachers are well aware that our children do better after they have spent some time in nature. We owe it to them to ensure that our kids get out and have fun!
Creative Commons - Tammra McCauley