February 20, 2009

Reclaiming the outdoors

At the recent Missoula Children and Nature Summit, panelists and attendants analyzed the following problem:

"Between the baby boomers and Generation Y, the United States saw a steep decline in outdoor enthusiasm and a corresponding increase in obesity, heart disease, emotional disturbance and other problems."

Reading the coverage of the event, I was initially exasperated, because my experience is that the problem is more complex than most newspaper articles and TV news segments paint it. There's a tendency to try to explain the problem away by saying, "Kids would rather play video games than play outside" and then blame either the kids or the video games and leave it at that. When in fact, the problem has many other causes that come into play.

Which is why I was glad to see those problems addressed further down in the article:

The reason many parents no longer tell their kids to get out of the house and not come back until dark is fear.

That fear is unfounded, according to Rick Potts, National Park Service conservation and outdoor recreation division director. But its prevalence has put kids across the country on a short leash and deprived them of connections to the outdoors.

My experience growing up was one of the "in-between" generation. My childhood home wasn't anywhere near undeveloped land. I spent a lot of time riding my bike around our cul-de-sac, but I wasn't allowed to ride beyond that point alone...and we lived in a very safe city. I played relatively unsupervised in my backyard and sometimes in my friends' backyards. But as backyard games became less interesting as I grew older, and riding in the same old circle on my bike became less enthralling, I found myself wanting to explore beyond my neighborhood...but I wasn't allowed to. So I stayed inside a lot.

What has your experience been? Were you allowed to wander by yourself and play in nature a lot growing up? If not, why not? And most importantly, what do you think needs to change in our society and culture to get more kids outside?

the buzz in play, nature