Editorial: An outsider’s view of life

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 23, 2008

If you’re the parent or guardian of a young child ó pre-teen, let’s say ó how long has it been since you took a walk in the woods with your offspring or traced the glittery outline of constellations in the night sky or marveled at the exquisite geometry of a spider web?
Chances are, if you’re like the typical suburban household ó harried and hurried ó it’s been a while. Children and adults alike live in an overscheduled, ever-shrinking world. Instead of answering the call of the wild, we’re more likely to get a pseudo nature fix through reality shows such as “Survivor,” a documentary on the plight of polar bears ó or the L.L. Bean catalog.
If that sounds familiar, you’re a good candidate for “Take a Child Outside Week,” which is being observed through next Tuesday.
Some might question the need for a formally designated week to get children to go outside and play, but there’s mounting evidence that the children of the 21st century are much more connected to text-messaging and video games than to the natural world. Childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing, with 17 percent of U.S. youngsters suffering from obesity and millions more overweight, according to federal statistics. The disconnect from the world around us has even spawned a clinical description ó nature-deficit disorder, as coined by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods.” Some psychologists think the disconnect from nature may be linked to childhood behavioral problems. Beyond a doubt, regular doses of nature can enhance our psychological well-being, along with our physical health, regardless of our age.
“Take a Child Outside Week” is the creation of Liz Baird, director of school programs with the N. C. Museum of Natural Sciences. The idea is simply to encourage children ó and their parents ó to renew their relationship with fresh air, trees, fish, bugs, birds and bees. You can find ideas for outings and activities at the Web site www.takeachildoutside.org. You could start with a ramble through a park ó or you might simply explore your own backyard.
A journey into the great outdoors needn’t be complicated or elaborate. As many adults know from their own childhoods, the happiest memories often emerge from the most unstructured moments. In other words, don’t worry about the lesson plan. Just get out of the house, and nature will take care of the rest.