New Report Aims to Save America's Kids from an "Indoor Summer"

Many children gain weight during summer break as disconnect with nature grows; National Wildlife Federation urges parents and policymakers to help kids

06-09-2008 // NWF Media Team

WASHINGTON, DC -- Summer break is usually associated with outdoor fun, but how many of our kids today think "skipping a stone" means overlooking a rock? Or that the phrase "go fly a kite" is an insult? Or that "going fishing" is a reference to the TV show "Deadliest Catch"? Or even that "playing" can only happen in front of the large-screen television? National Wildlife Federation aims to make the answers to all these questions "none" with the release of Connecting Today's Kids With Nature: A Policy Action Plan.

On a walk through a typical American neighborhood this summer, one might be hard pressed to find a bare-foot kid chasing down a toad, or building a tree fort in the woods, or flying a kite in the park. Organized play at the soccerplex has replaced unstructured play down at the creek. As American childhood has moved indoors, research shows that many of today's children are actually gaining weight during the summer break. And as electronic entertainment replaces both structured and unstructured outdoor experiences, many children are being raised so cut off from their natural world that they are not developing a connection with nature. Not only is this connection an important quality-of-life issue by contributing to emotional and physical well being, it also forms the cornerstone of an environmental stewardship ethic.

"When watching animal shows on TV becomes the closest many of today's kids get to the great outdoors, we risk the health of our children and endanger the prospect of developing future stewards of the natural world," said Larry Schweiger, the president & CEO of National Wildlife Federation. "That's why NWF will use its resources to encourage parents and caregivers to get kids to go outside and play and to ask policy makers to take action."

The average child today spends more than 6 hours a day watching TV, playing video games or on a computer. Conversely, the amount of time U.S. children now spend outdoors has declined by 50 percent in the past 20 years. Author Richard Louv described this American trend in his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, and even gave it a name, "nature deficit".

"The phrase 'go outside and play' sums up the summer experiences that many adult Americans fondly remember," said Kevin Coyle, Vice President for Education at NWF. "But today's kids rarely hear these four little words. The sad reality is that American childhood has moved indoors. Meanwhile, our kids face an epidemic of childhood obesity and a troubling disconnect with nature."

Connecting our children to nature through outdoor experiences pays clear dividends: children who play outside are more active and more physically fit; time in nature improves children's academic performance, concentration, balance, coordination, and self-esteem; and playing outside even reduces the severity of symptoms of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which affects millions of American children.

Environmental education increases student engagement in science, improves student achievement in core subject areas, and increases student awareness about individual actions they can take to restore the health of the natural environment; and

Children who spend time in nature are more likely to have pro-environmental attitudes as adults. Time spent in nature with an important adult often shapes a child's long-term environmental ethic. If this nature deficit continues unabated, we may face a dearth of environmental leaders, professionals, and advocates as we try to conquer future environmental challenges like climate change.

Solutions for reversing nature deficit and connecting our children to nature, and ourselves at the same time, are available through organizations like NWF. NWF has compiled a list of solutions that offer ways for parents to take action within our communities, at the state level, and at the national level. Some of these include connecting kids to nature through environmental education, promoting outdoor play through our public health systems, and encouraging parents to build in regular time for outdoor play through the NWF online parent resource, Green Hour.

CONTACT: Kevin Coyle, vice president of education, NWF, (703) 438-6416, coylek@nwf.org

For summer outdoor activity ideas and other online resources, please visit ourĀ Be Out There website.

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