According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children ages 6-17 should get a good 60 minutes of “moderate” or “vigorous-intensity” physical activity a day, activity that is both aerobic and strengthens muscles and bones.
Sad thing is, so many U.S. children don’t get anywhere near this much. According to one CDC statistic, only about half of older youths participate in an hour of physical activity even a couple of days a week, let alone every day. Another CDC report notes that more than 27 percent of Indiana residents of all ages get, essentially, no physical activity at all save daily living.
So, many of us aren’t moving much beyond car to house to couch to refrigerator to bed and back, our children included.
And not only are U.S. children characteristically physically inactive, but they’re also spending their time indoors. I couldn’t find hard-and-fast numbers — though I did read one statistic that said U.S. children spend 85 percent of their time indoors — but I’m suspicious many U.S. children have never climbed a tree, sprinted across a field or hiked across a rocky creek.
Children aren’t moving much, and they’re not playing outside.
My Amish friends are probably thinking, “Don’t play outside? What is it English children do indoors all day?”
Ah, well, they’re often tethered to couches or gaming chairs with their faces gazing at screens. When I was young it was Atari and its “Space Invaders” and MTV. I don’t know what all it is today — just know that there’s more of it than ever. In our house, which I sometimes delusionally consider a NON-plugged-in place, we have two laptop computers, one desktop computer, two cell phones, a Kindle and an iPad. No television, but that’s not saying much, and most families have at least one TV and its zillion channels as well.
Many people — me included — would tell you raising crops of indoorsy children is a travesty. It’s bad for the children; it’s likely bad for society. Children should be outside to play, to run, to climb, to jump, to think and, even, to work. Yes, work. Someone recently told me I was harsh for requiring my children to rake the copious amounts of grass that my husband had mowed.
I assure you, my children can and should rake grass. If you’d like to host a good pity party for them, know they’re also required to weed the garden, feed the cats and hang clothes out to dry.
A few years back I bought the book “The Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv. It’s a great read in which the author writes about his own experiences tromping through fields; mourns the loss of such wholesome and useful activities among present-day youth; and offers suggestions about how to revive a little ones’ love for the backyard wild.
Read the book and see if you don’t escort your children outside, shut the door and tell them to go and have at it. I did, and I’m still waiting for them to come in.
No, really, since my first son was a baby, we’ve been mostly outdoorsy people. Perhaps it’s because we’ve always been financially challenged: We could afford a $2 county park entry fee and hike near a river, whereas a $50 movie excursion did not suit our budget.
Nah, that’s not it. It just made sense to us that the outdoors would be where our children would learn and grow. The outdoors has the potential for every life lesson and includes every science — botany, chemistry, biology, et al — as well as opportunity for a child to find his passion, be it engineering waterways, veterinary medicine or writing while inspired by birdsong. For some reason, even our deep conversations seem deeper around a campfire, and our best “family time” is weeding together in the garden.
Do you need some ideas to get your children outside? Start with Richard Louv’s book. Local ideas? Check this out:
In recent days I met an interesting woman, Carla Gull. Carla is a mother who, like me, was always “scouring” the Internet — her words — to find things in Michiana for her and her children to do. In her searches, also like me, she preferred to find outdoor things like nature hikes and bird watching; she preferred venues like woods and ponds.
Carla found plenty of things to do in Michiana, but “I kept thinking that it would be great to have all of these events on one calendar,” Carla’s blog reads. “The idea festered and festered until I couldn’t sleep until I got it started.” So Carla did what I admire most what people do when they see a need: She just did it herself.
Now, with no real pay or glory, Carla maintains the web site Inside Outside Michiana, a place where she lists all sorts of outdoors-related activities in Michiana. People like you and me are blessed to find that info here: http://insideoutsidemichiana.blogspot.com/. Check out her page, maybe make a donation if she accepts them. I thank you, Carla, for your work along these lines. You’re definitely bookmarked.
Now, get thee and thy children outside.
Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”