I came upon an ad today for Green Hour, a great initiative of the National Wildlife Federation. Green Hour is urging parents to get their children outside, interacting with nature, for at least 1 hour a day. For most of us, this was just the way we grew up. I was by no means an ‘outdoorsy’ kind of girl. I’m sure I spent ten times as much time inside with my nose in a book as I did outside – but I have great memories of playing outside. Catching caterpillars and fireflies. Making daisy chains. Searching for four-leaf clovers. Picking mulberries in our backyard on Blenheim, wild strawberries at Grandaddy Epperson’s house and sugar snap peas straight from the garden. Building troll houses in the backyard. Watching the clouds. And these were just normal days. Not summer camp, not organized playdates, just every day stuff.
Children today don’t seem to be doing as much of this. Instead, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the average American child spends 44 hours per week (more than 6 hours a day!) staring at some kind of electronic screen. And even though I know this can not be good, I’m as guilty of perpetuating it as the next guy. As much as I try to tell myself that the television shows my children watch and the video games they play are ‘educational’ (PBS for goodness sakes, how bad can that be, right?) But it is still time spent staring at a screen.
Children who regularly spend unstructured time outside:
Play more creatively
Have lower stress levels
Have more active imaginations
Become fitter and leaner
Develop stronger immune systems
Experience fewer symptoms of ADD and ADHD
Have greater respect for themselves, for others, and for the environment
Raymond and I have been making an effort over the last week or so to ‘unplug’ the children. We are limiting the tv time to 1-2 short shows a day, and while Fletcher still plays on the PBS website during naptime, he is limited to 1 hour. This may still be too much, but it is a start. And the children have responded amazingly well. They are playing outside a lot more, and playing more creatively. It is, at times, more work for me. But it is worth it. And if we don’t do it now, things will only get (exponentially) more difficult down the road.
The one problem so far has been the crazy number of mosquitos in the backyard. I hate putting chemical bug repellants all over my babies – especially when they are getting bitten anyway! So my mission for tomorrow is to get some essential oils from the health food store and try to make my own, all-natural mosquito repellant. I have my fingers crossed that it will work!