Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Play Outside - Why Our Kids Need More Green Time

Our family's green time at Madeline Island's
beautiful State Park.
I have YMCA  kids. Four of them.  They have been Y kids all of their life experiencing swim team, basketball, Halloween parties,  and more recently as they have gotten older Camp Manitou.
I admit sending kid one there was kind of tough. Not on him, on me.  Would he brush his teeth, keep his clothes organized, and shower on a regular basis?  I remember asking Carol, Camp Manitou’s Chief keeper of kids, those questions before his first session.  She smiled knowingly and answered, “No, he won’t.”  And she was right.  Not only did he not regularly shower, the dirt in his knees took three days to scrub off when he returned home.
But he was alright.  Actually, more than alright.  Year after year as we sent him and then our daughters, they returned different kids.  Dare I say, more mature and knowing, as though they had experienced something special and unique and were forever changed for the experience.  How it happened wasn’t always available to us as parents.  It wasn’t in the funny stories they told about kids in their cabins, latrine hazards, or adventures on the big bopper.  It wasn’t even about the new friends we knew they had made or all of the amazing team building projects they had experienced. We would get a little insight usually during the tears shed at pick up knowing that they just realized the next opportunity for completely being a kid was a summer away again.
When it comes down to it, for my children, a week at Camp Manitou is all about being a kid.  Even better, a kid outside.  Stripped away from the cell phones, computer games and all other devices requiring an electrical outlet, they get to focus on play.  It’s a respite from CNN, school stress, and family tensions.  It’s the opportunity to be in awe of nature and what the Earth provides without being required to write an essay about it.  They get to live in the outdoors and just be present in that moment.
As a business person I teach yoga and also run yoga and kayaking adventure retreat for women on Madeline Island.  Teaching yoga on the island, on the beach of Lake Superior if weather permits, I see the same benefits in adults that my kids experience at Camp Manitou.  Nature as a backdrop is profoundly impactful in releasing tensions and reconnecting to ourselves.  For younger kids, it is inherent.  But as they grow and are faced with so many expectations, it slowly wears away.  Sometimes, by the time they reach adulthood it is lost it all together. In my opinion, these camp experiences are priceless, reminding our kids to experience things outdoors and reconnect with nature.
I recently read the book, Last Child in the Woods – Saving our kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv.  The premise is simple, that our kids need more green time, but the statistics and studies supporting the evidence that children in modern families spend so much more time indoors leading to a sedentary lifestyle and childhood obesity are staggering.  We know that for kids outdoor play facilitates a more prepared brain for learning and yet opportunities for our kids are fewer and further away. Another emerging body of scientific evidence indicates that exposure to nature is essential for physical and emotional health. We can measure the relationship between nature and health and understand that time outdoors improves children’s cognitive abilities and resistance to stress and depression.
Understanding that, I’m pretty sure that is what I noticed in my kids on pick up day.  A release and a re-connect. I’m so grateful that they have the memories and know that as adults, they will always look back fondly on Camp.

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