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Published: Thursday, 9/23/2010

Bill of rights urges kids to play outdoors

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Get off the couch. Put down the video game. Turn off the TV. Go outdoors.

Sound like your mother's advice?

Now it's Gov. Ted Strickland's too.

According to the new Ohio Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights, outdoor playtime is a fundamental need for toddlers, 'tweens, teens, and others who are young at heart.

The grass-roots organization put together a document called the Leave No Child Inside Collaborative put together with the help of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Just in case there was any doubt, of course.

The document got Mr. Strickland's symbolic support on Sept. 15. It is a bill by name only, though - nonbinding and unenforceable - because it was never voted on by the Ohio General Assembly, said Amanda Wurst, a spokesman for the governor's office.

"Growing up in rural Ohio, some of my greatest childhood memories were times spent outdoors, but, sadly, too many of today's children are losing out on those memories and experiences. It's important that we all work together to encourage children to experience the great outdoors for their own physical and social well-being," Mr. Strickland said in a statement last night.

Sandy Gratop, a naturalist at Sylvania's Olander Park, supports an initiative by the state, ‘Leave No Child Inside,' to encourage children to play outside more often and experience nature.
Sandy Gratop, a naturalist at Sylvania's Olander Park, supports an initiative by the state, ‘Leave No Child Inside,' to encourage children to play outside more often and experience nature.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Ohio's so-called bill is hardly unique. A quick Internet search shows several states and a number of large metropolitan areas have either enacted or have given serious consideration to such proclamations.

Many people believe the trend is a statement of how suburbanized America has become - lazy, yes, with epidemic childhood obesity, but also more intellectually oblivious about and indifferent to Mother Nature.

Those familiar with the movement often cite Richard Louv's 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, as their inspiration for trying to get kids back outdoors.

The author cites a growing disconnect with nature with each generation, a condition which can lead to more depression and anxiety, along with obesity.

He and other outdoor advocates believe the tranquility of woods and the rippling sounds of a stream spur creativity and imagination in children, helping them become better writers and thinkers while developing strong bodies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says every child should have at least one hour of unstructured free play outdoors every day.

Video games, seemingly endless television programs, DVDs, text-messaging, and Web-surfing aren't the only things to blame.

Experts have said parents themselves have become too overprotective as society spreads out across the landscape and the number of tight-knit neighborhoods diminish, with fears exacerbated by a relentless barrage of reports about kidnappings, slayings, and child molestation.

"Parents don't have common sense. A lot of children are being raised by parents who have no outdoor experience," said Sandy Gratop, a naturalist at Sylvania's Olander Park.

"What's happened is that technology has forced kids into this transition. TV is the automatic baby sitter. It's been really noticeable the last 30 years, but it has been around much longer than that," she said.

"If you're frustrated and can hear water running or bubbling, doesn't that sort of help you a little bit?" Ms. Gratop asked. "Kids no longer have to experiment because things are done for them. They need the wonder and awe of nature."

Leave No Child Inside invited Mr. Strickland to a ceremonial event it had planned in Columbus tomorrow morning to recognize his support for the Ohio Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights.

The governor cannot attend because of a scheduling conflict. Ohio DNR Director Sean Logan and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Chris Korleski will represent him, Ms. Wurst said.

The event is to be simulcast at five locations.

One is Olander Park, where people are expected to gather at 9:30 a.m. Friday's celebration is to be followed by exhibits at Bass Pro Shops in Rossford from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and an event back at Olander from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

The latter is to feature a visit from Miss Ohio, Becky Minger of Sylvania, and a variety of activities, Ms. Gratop said.

The proposed Ohio Children's Outdoor Bill of Rights says the state recognizes children deserve access to safe, natural green spaces in their community so they can better connect with nature and explore.

Kids should enjoy "the joys of splashing, playing and swimming in safe, clean lakes and streams" and become "fully immersed in nature by camping overnight, free of the distraction of electronics," according to the document.

"The idea is that getting into nature just makes you healthier," Ms. Gratop said.

Leave No Child Inside said it has enlisted support from the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association and mayors of about 25 cities, including Port Clinton, Toledo, and Sylvania.

"Largely, it's common sense," said Scott Carpenter, Metroparks of the Toledo Area spokesman. "But then again, kids aren't going outside enough. I think we all intuitively know that as parents, but maybe we need to give them a little nudge now and then," he said.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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