Freeze column: No child left inside

  • Posted: Monday, October 15, 2012 12:01 a.m.
    UPDATED: Monday, October 15, 2012 4:15 a.m.

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post
I went to Chapel Hill for a few days last week. When asked why, I have enjoyed telling people that Roy Williams wanted to get some coaching pointers. He probably has heard that I have 20 years of coaching YMCA basketball fifth and sixth graders.
We have a lot in common because none of our players are worried about getting a college degree anytime soon.
The real reason was a conference at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens focusing on the Natural Learning Initiative. My purpose in being there was to explore ways to provide outdoor learning environments for the kids at Partners in Learning. I serve as the Wellness Coordinator there.
From my experience, young kids love to be in an outdoor environment. I did as a child and I still do. Classrooms are not the only solution. Kids need a different perspective.
There was some incredible information provided. Did you know that 95% of all living things are yet to be identified and catalogued? 60% of us have forehead mites, but as of yet no one has studied them. Lots of us have camel crickets in the house. Those are the grasshopper looking pests who sometimes bounce easily across the floor, coming out of nowhere. No one knows what they eat. Shouldn't we find out?
If every kid in the United States found and catalogued a new species every day for the rest of their lives, only about half of the world's living things would be known by that time. But first, how do we make the opportunity for kids to develop an interest in the outdoors?
Have you heard the expression 'Give Your Child a Ditch?' It's a common term among those who support helping kids develop interests other than video games, computer time and various ways to sit inside the house. Have you ever seen a kid who gets to play in a ditch with water and maybe a few crawly things? It is hard to pull them away.
In Denmark, 'green and forest kindergartens' are a way of life. Denmark is a country with few temperature extremes, but they do occasionally have snow. Day time temperatures average a little less than ours. About half of their school days, 3 to 5-year-old kids get on a bus first thing in the morning, and ride out to a park or forest area to spend the day. They carry a lunch and a change of clothes in their backpack. While always supervised, the kids are given the freedom to explore and challenge themselves. Five- year-olds use tools to build things. I watched a video of 5-year-olds fashioning a bridge over a water-filled ditch. They learned to work together. Yes, occasionally one of the kids slipped into the water. If they did, they got out and put on dry socks.
The same kids were encouraged to climb trees. They climb up and get down, learning how to move around in the trees. There were few quarrels. Motor skills improved. This provides a great learning time. The most interesting fact is that there were fewer accidents than the same kids had on a playground, and only slightly more than when in a classroom.
Today's kids are battling the greatest threat of childhood obesity ever. For the first time, the expected lifespan of these kids is slightly less than that of their parents. The lifespan of Americans has been increasing consistently for generations, but because our kids are becoming so inactive physically, will that continue? Within 10 years at the current rate of increase, about half of all American adults will be considered obese.
The perfect solution comes to mind. Let's get these kids the opportunities to be out of doors and let them explore. They will learn the importance of conservation in their surroundings as well as an appreciation of their environment. And they will be active. From my experience, the younger we start with the good things, the better. The encouragement of a caring and interested adult can make all the difference.
Bottom line - tell them to "Go outside and play." And think about going along.

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