New bill seeks to connect kids with nature

Kids hike in New Mexico’s Soledad Canyon.

Credit: Lori Allen (BLM New Mexico), flickr.

A bill introduced May 21 aims at moving childhood back outdoors, reversing a disturbing trend of physical inactivity and alienation from nature.

Kids don’t spend as much time outside as they used to, to the detriment of their health, happiness and overall connection with nature. Now, Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) have introduced House and Senate versions of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, a bill that would provide incentives for states to combat that trend.

“This is a great effort by Senator Udall and Congressman Kind,” said Paul Sanford, Senior Recreation Specialist for The Wilderness Society. “Today’s kids are tomorrow’s leaders, and we will need leaders that know the value of our parks, wildlife refuges, and forests. Healthy kids need healthy lands, so it’s important that we make sure there lots of wild places for people to enjoy. This bill focuses on both.”

The legislation would spur states to form five-year strategies that encourage kids and families to be active in the outdoors through unstructured play and outdoor recreation like camping, hiking, hunting and fishing.

The benefits of time outside may be obvious to dyed-in-the-wool wilderness lovers, but they are worth talking about for the sake of those still working on getting their kids to drop the smartphone for a little while:

Benefits of getting kids outdoors

Physical health. Childhood obesity has been on the rise for years, and it’s clear that reversing that trend won’t be easy. But physical exercise, especially in the form of unstructured outdoor play, can be a big part of the strategy. Other issues that may be partly remedied by more time outside include vitamin D deficiencies and nearsightedness. In recent years, pediatricians have even been urged to formally recommend outdoor activities for children—and in some areas, doctors are already prescribing time in public parks.

Emotional and mental health. Research suggests that unstructured activity in the outdoors may improve kids’ psychological wellbeing, build independence and even strengthen imagination and cognitive ability. At a time when our lives seem ever more densely-packed with appointments and obligations, nature’s ability to reduce stress and anxiety is especially important.

Connection to nature. A child whose connection to nature is tentative or restricted will be less likely to stand up for conservation later on. Put simply, it’s hard to appreciate the value of wilderness if you haven’t experienced it.

A final note about those ubiquitous tablets, phones and other devices: in recent years, pediatricians have cautioned against screen time for young kids, but modern technology can be an ally in connecting children with the outdoors. Check out some apps that can help to encourage time in nature.

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