Earth Day 2010: Getting Back To Nature

I think pretty much everybody knows about the No Child Left Behind Act, but were you aware that on Earth Day 2009 the No Child Left Inside act was introduced. I have to confess that I was completely ignorant of this until I read an article on the subject last week. Still pending before Congress the goal of this Act is to provide quality environmental education and to support outdoor learning programs, giving children the opportunity to spend more time outdoors and better understand our natural resources. Why is this so important? Because it is becoming clear that our cultural shift away from spending time outdoors is causing children to be more sedentary and is robbing them of important life lessons. From a very early age as a child and just like all the other neighborhood kids I would be told to go out and play and not come home until lunch or dinner time. With very few manufactured toys or recreational aides available other than our bikes to ride, we learnt to entertain ourselves. We gave our imaginations full reign, happily creating games to play and adventures to go on and had so much fun that it seemed the days just flew by. When we were at school we all longed for the school vacations to begin, which in summer meant we had weeks and weeks ahead of us to just enjoy being kids, playing with our friends in the great outdoors. Nowadays when kids step outside their front door all too often they step straight into a waiting vehicle, to be ferried here and there to organized activities. They are not out making mud pies, collecting flowers to press, chasing butterflies and helping Dad in the vegetable patch. Children today all too often do not get to spend time in contact with nature. Sure, they read about it on the internet - apparently kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of seven and a half hours a day plugged into or otherwise engaged electronically on their telephones, TV's, computers and games. But you have to experience nature not just read about it to really connect and correctly interpret what you learn through technology. Research is increasingly proving that a little time spent in direct contact with the good old outdoors can only do good for our children. Children it seems are happier, healthier and smarter when they have an opportunity to play in nature on a regular basis. A mounting body of evidence suggests that children who do get that opportunity are likely to benefit from higher academic scores, be more cooperative and develop enhanced creativity and problem solving capabilities. Since reading the article I have been thinking about my own actions as a Mom and have decided I can do a better job in this regard. True, when the weather is nice we go outside and play in the yard, blowing bubbles (Mirabelle's favorite activity of all time), throwing balls and chalking on the sidewalk. We have even, since the sun finally came out a week or two ago, gone paddling in the pool every single day despite the fact that the water is absolutely freezing and turns your legs blue with cold. Because Mirabelle it seems does not mind the cold at all and jumps straight in. But that's not really exposing her to nature, it is not letting her experience the things she should be experiencing and learning about by seeing them for herself as opposed to just looking at pictures in a book. So I have resolved to do better. Where we live everything is new - new homes, Malls, office parks etc. But still within a thirty minute drive of here I am discovering there are opportunities to view nature as intended. Last Thursday I took Mirabelle to a nearby nature reserve and even though she did not walk the entire route, preferring the stroller, she did walk some of the way and we had a wonderful time. We saw so may butterflies, all shapes, colors and sizes. I have to just stop and point out that here in the US you are so lucky to still have so many butterflies - in England, much to the dismay of my father who loves them, they have largely been eradicated, the result of too many people living on too small an area of land taking their natural habitats away. We saw an abundance of wild spring flowers, white, yellow, purple, pink and even some of the very famous bluebonnets blooming. We spotted some ladybugs and I managed to get one to crawl onto my finger, from where after a few minutes it opened its tiny wings and flew away. Mirabelle was entranced. Then yesterday I persuaded a reluctant husband and child that we should venture to a natural science museum and wildlife sanctuary. We walked a nature trail through pretty woodlands and in the entire hour it took us to walk the half mile we only saw two other people. I would never have believed it could take so long to walk such a short distance- I am used to twelve mile hikes up hill and down dale. But Mirabelle does not like to be hurried and in fact cannot be hurried, especially when there are so many sticks and stones to be picked up and examined. We saw huge trees that had Mirabelle gazing up in awe, until that is she saw a squirrel scampering up the trunk of one and set off to try and catch it shouting "let's go get that squirrel". It was an overcast day so not many butterflies in evidence but we heard so many birds singing and the woods were so delightful. When we stopped at an abandoned wooden hut for a rest and a snack Mirabelle turned to me and said "I really like being outside". I looked at her and said "yes, it's so nice isn't it, seeing all the pretty trees and flowers, hearing the birds sing and watching the butterflies." "Exactly" she replied. It was the very first time she has ever used that word and I could not think of a more appropriate time for her to do so. So, my pledge for Earth Day 2010 is to keep up our activities in the great outdoors, to show my daughter all I can about this wonderful world of ours and encourage her to explore and enjoy it. Because we are all just so lucky to have been given the chance to experience it and what better way to do so than with our children.