(ARA) - With school out, summer is the perfect time to rediscover the outdoors. Experiencing nature's wonders firsthand -- admiring a garter snake slithering in the grass, planting flowers in the yard or devouring strawberries picked fresh from the garden -- can prove as captivating as anything on the TV or video-game screen. So begin today to get your kids to celebrate and capture summer outside with our living planet.
Parents searching for inspiration don't have to look far to identify great outdoor activities that are nearby, easy and fun. And the benefits are enormous, studies reveal. More-active kids do better academically. They score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. They show better coordination, balance and agility, and they're sick less often. They are less likely to bully, be violent and to vandalize. And they are more likely to develop their imagination and the sense of wonder.
"Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it," contends award-winning journalist and child advocate Richard Louv, whose book, Last Child in the Woods, coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" and also triggered a nationwide "No Child Left Indoors" movement. "In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy and privacy: a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace."
Not as many children today are discovering the outdoors. In a typical week, only six percent of children ages 9 to 13 play outside on their own, while a typical child in the U.S. watches more than three hours of television daily. The decline in outdoor adventuring is cited as one reason why the obesity rate has more than tripled the past three decades, to 17 percent from 5 percent, for children ages 12 to 19.
But getting your kids off the couch and out into the neighborhood for memorable adventures is easy and enjoyable.
"We realize it can be a challenge for parents to identify outdoor activities that kids will consider fun," says Jennifer Hanley, outdoor living and gardening expert at The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. Hanley's nature and garden-related suggestions include a stroll around the yard or the neighborhood park to introduce children to the six basic parts of plants and their functions; planting perennials that live and bloom year after year; and designating a day for immersing children in nature -- without TV, computers and video games.
Whenever a child laments, "I'm bored, there's nothing to do," recommend any of these options and add enthusiastically that you will be glad to join in the adventure:
* Starting a learning garden in the backyard or neighborhood plot. This helps kids learn about taking care of plants and the animals drawn to the plants and respecting the environment and nearby nature. Your kids can take photos of the garden as it grows and produces whatever they've planted.
* Bird watching and identifying trees and plants that appear in the yard. These activities often entice older kids, especially if they understand that a periodic bird or plant census helps detect any significant shifts in their populations.
* Recording sight, hearing, smell and touch observations on walks in your neighborhood, which helps kids hone their sensory-observation skills. They can log the information they gather using a scientific approach and even make drawings to chronicle their observations.
Janet Fouts, a West Virginia environmentalist, invented nature games with her daughter, Julia. In one game called "The Sound of a Creature Not Stirring," they would listen for sounds they couldn't hear -- an apple ripening, dew on the grass, an earthworm moving through the soil, and a spider weaving its web, among others. Fouts maintains that this attention to nature's details helped in her daughter's speech development, writing, artwork and keen attention to detail.
By making outdoor activity fun, parents play an integral role in helping children appreciate the beauty of nature in their surrounding areas and understand the importance of being environmental stewards, starting in their own backyard. Courtesy of ARAcontent