New bill will develop strategies to reconnect kids with nature

The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will provide incentives for states to develop new strategies for getting children and families outdoors.

Credit: Loren Kerns, flickr.

A bill introduced April 23 aims at moving childhood back outdoors, reversing a trend of alienation from nature.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) introduced Senate and House versions of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act, which would provide incentives for states to combat the trend of kids and families spending less time outside.

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“Now, more than ever, it is important to develop new strategies for getting children outdoors reconnecting to nature,” said Paul Sanford, national director of recreation policy for The Wilderness Society, in an Outdoors Alliance for Kids coalition statement. “Kids need stimulating alternatives to smart phones and computers, alternatives that are educational and promote physical activity. The Healthy Kids Outdoors Act will encourage states to provide opportunities for recreation and education in the great outdoors. We thank Senator Heinrich and Congressman Kind for championing this important legislation.”

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.

Credit: Brian McNeal (USDA), flickr.

Make no mistake: we do need a plan. Recent research has found that kids spend much more time staring at screens than they used to—an average of six and a half hours per day, according to one report—and it negatively affects everything from their weight to their academic performance to their ability to recognize emotions.

As they settle in front of the television or computer, kids are shying away from nature, too. In a Nature Conservancy poll, only 10 percent of kids said they spend time outdoors every day. Part of the problem is that some parents are not taking their kids out to play.

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

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The move to connect kids with nature is gaining momentum. In February, President Barack Obama launched the Every Kid in a Park initiative to get more kids playing and learning outdoors. It will provide 4th grade students and their families free admission to all national parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, support transportation for school trips, and provide educational resources for students and teachers through field classrooms and digital materials.

A final note about those ubiquitous tablets, phones and other devices: there is no doubt that  screen time is a major concern for kids and an impediment to outdoor play—pediatricians have even formally cautioned against screen time. However, if used in moderation, modern technology can be an ally in connecting children with nature. Check out some apps that can help to encourage time outdoors.