Go Outside and P L A _ ! (We all need the Y)


“Go outside and play!” our grandma ordered as we sat on the floor directly in front of the giant Zenith TV set on a Saturday morning watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. We were all under the age of 7. The year? 1970. Fast forward to 2012 and parents aren’t competing against just the giant Zenith anymore. Screen time for children appears in many more forms: the home computer, laptop, smart phones, PS3, Xbox, AND the plug-in drug known as television; and now even a screen is playing for passengers in the backseats of family vans.

Studies have shown that an average ten year old spends eight hours in front of a screen per day. While technology and other factors draw children indoors, conscious effort towards opening the door and stepping out is critical.

Physical outdoor activity and connecting with nature are important to good health, well-being and a child’s intellectual capacity. Research shows that participation in outdoor activities in parks, backyards, gardens, and forests can increase self-esteem, decrease symptoms associated with ADHD, contribute to emotional growth and combat childhood obesity.

Author, Richard Louv, coined the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ not for medical diagnosis but because it is clear and understandable. Consider for a moment the simple comparison of a child sitting on the couch with a gaming device in hand… not a lot of physical movement other than the child’s thumbs manipulating the controller; all mental focus on an artificial electronic figure battling or racing. Now consider a child walking down a park trail moving legs, arms, body with the mind focusing on trees, flowers, water, mushrooms, moss, and rocks.

One of thhe most rewarding experiences for the YMCA staff in Northfield is taking children into nature. Which includes: long hikes where children who may be bordering on obesity find success and pride in physical activity.  During unstructured play near water children use their imaginations and you sometimes see them creating rock homes filled with water for fish they imagined they caught themselves.

Imagination is not used in video games and technology. Imagination plays a key role in problem-solving for children as they learn and grow and thrive. Time spent outdoors is magical and does wonders for children who need hands-on experiences. Children who would typically get into trouble indoors play successfully with other kids outdoors and become friendlier.

Suggestive of the ‘No Child Left Behind Act’, our government is processing a vital initiative entitled, ‘Leave No Child Inside’ because countless studies have shown that children need nature. The initiative abides by the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, which declares that every child should have the opportunity to: discover wilderness – prairies, dunes, forests, savannas, and wetlands, camp under the stars, follow a trail, catch and release fish, frogs, and insects, climb a tree, explore nature in neighborhoods and cities, celebrate heritage, plant a flower, play in the mud or a stream, and learn to swim.

Remembering back to childhood experiences in the outdoors, do you see a difference in the way children today are encountering nature? Children used to travel up to a mile away from home to engage in spontaneous play while today kids travel only an average of 500 feet. Our community is blessed with access to the outdoors in and around Northfield. Putting down the "screens"  isn’t easy, but the Y encourages you to sit down ~today~ and make a list with your child or your grandchild of places you can both go to explore nature and then make it happen!

 The Northfield Area Family YMCA has just mailed out 1500 Summer Camp 2012 brochures to families in the community with children under the age of 11.  If you have not receive your Y camp brochure please call 507.645.0088 - and we will mail one out to you or you can see the brochure online here http://northfieldymca.org/wp-content/uploads/YMCA-SummerCamp-2012.pdf