National Summit: Connecting Children and the Outdoors

This post was written from the Be Out There: Connecting Children and the Outdoors summit and annual meeting in Houston, TX.

Did you know that the average American child spends 53 hours per week staring at some kind of electronic screen? Worse, the average boy or girl spends less than 7 minutes engaged in outdoors, unstructured play every day!

Today, National Wildlife Federation hosted a national summit on children and the outdoors to explore the indoor childhood problem and what we can all do at the local, state and federal level to halt this dangerous trend.

More than 60 organizations from around the nation joined the summit by webcast to hear from national health and child experts. Just a few of the startling statistics:

– By the time most children go to kindergarten, they have spent more than 5,000 hours in front of a television – enough time to earn a college degree;

– Obesity among children ages 6-11 more than doubled in the past 20 years, to 17 percent;

– Lack of outdoor time an inadequate doses of sunlight are creating a generation of children deficient in Vitamin D, which can lead to heart disease, diabetes and bone problems.

The reality is we’re raising a generation of “inside kids.” And the implications – physical and mental – are serious, not to mention that it spells disaster for the future of conservation. Who will be there in 20 years to protect our precious wildlife heritage if everyone is inside texting?

Dr. David Rutstein, Acting Deputy Surgeon General, spoke at the summit, and said one of the prescriptions to help treat – and prevent – obesity in children, is to provide them enough unstructured outdoor time. Well, that’s exactly what National Wildlife Federation’s Be Out There campaign is all about!

John Grant, CEO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta and a director on the NWF board, said that even in urban cities, families can find outdoor space right outside their door in neighborhood parks that offer kids the chance to get exercise and also get their creative juices flowing. “

We can all start by getting better informed about this growing problem. I encourage you to go to Be Out There to learn more, and to find ideas for how you can inspire children to “Be Out There” in nature. NWF has lots of guides and activities to get you started. So grab the sunscreen and go!

P.S. I’ve been attending National Wildlife Federation’s 74th annual meeting in Houston, TX this week. It’s an inspiring event, with conservation leaders from our 47 state affiliated organizations coming together to debate and set policies, discuss conservation challenges and share success stories. But I’ll admit, by day three, the hotel conference room I spent too many hours in was beginning to remind me of a meat locker, and I was yearning for a Green Hour.

You might think Houston is just one big concrete jungle. But I managed to find a terrific green space, the Houston Arboretum, not far from the hotel. My hotel concierge recommended I take a cab, as she thought the 2-mile walk would be too far (I walked back after realizing just how close it was). And my cab driver needed a GPS to find the park, which he had never heard of. The winding drive through dense woods was as foreign to him as the inner-city streets were to me.

In the course of an hour hiking the trails in this hidden park, I spied several box turtles, tadpoles, squirrels, a water snake, and a magnificent yellow crested night heron that looked like a statue in the swamp until he ever-so-silently moved his head to fish.

The experience has left me inspired – and it just proves that you can find a little green space just about anywhere, even in the middle of downtown Houston.