Treehouse Removal Could Threaten Kids’ Health

A father in Fairfax County, where the National Wildlife Federation is headquartered, recently received word that the treehouse he built for his sons, ages 9 and11, violated county zoning laws and would have to come down. Seems the $1,400 tree house, nice enough for a feature in House Beautiful, required a building variance because it was built in the home’s front yard, where the only tree big enough to accommodate a treehouse on the property grew.  Zoning officials say it falls in the same category as a garage, shed or any other structures which require a building permit.

Aside from the general absurdity of this scenario, I contend that the health of the two boys, and all their playmates who will visit them in the tree house, should trump some zoning law clearly not written to include a natural play scape where kids can escape into a world all their own.

Photo Credit: Steven Depolo

This treehouse will allow the boys to avoid the hazards of today’s indoor childhood, filled almost 24/7 with TV, video games, texting, electronic devices etc that are robbing them of their connection to the natural world. Simply put, kids are out of shape, tuned out and stressed out because they’re missing something essential to their childhood, outdoor playtime.

While previous generations spent their free time as kids exploring and playing in nature, their children devote only four to seven minutes a day to unstructured outdoor play like climbing trees, skipping rocks, building forts, or just hanging out in the backyard.

The Fairfax Zoning Board, who will review this issue again on November 30, need to consider the following before casting their final vote.

  •  Overweight and obese children are at risk for shortening their lifespans. Running around outdoors, and maybe using their treehouse as a hide-out, can help them maintain a healthy weight.
  •  Sunshine helps kid’s bodies create vitamin D, which is essential to building strong bones, enhances eyesight, and helps kids sleep better at night
  •  Outdoor play protects kids’ emotional development, letting kids be kids. They can let off steam and forget any stresses that may be going on in their lives. Research shows their stress levels fall within minutes of being outside.
  •  When kids play outside, they are more likely to improve their social skills with other kids.
  •  Playing outside, and pretending their treehouse is a pirate ship or medieval castle, inspires creativity and requires kids to call on their imaginations.

When we as a society place more value on zoning ordinances than the health and wellbeing of our children, we’ve lost touch with reality. I hope the Zoning Board wakes up and gets the message.

Check out NWF’s Whole Child Report to learn more about the benefits of outdoor time for kids.

If parents can’t manage a treehouse for their kids, NWF’s Be Out There campaign is full of ideas on how else to get kids outside and benefiting from a connection to the natural world.

Sign’s online petition to the Fairfax County Zoning Board, asking them to allow Mr. Grapin and his two boys keep their tree house.

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Published: October 14, 2011