September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and I came across an article that really drew my attention. The author was talking about how to raise “free-range” kids (PDF), meaning children who have the opportunity to run, play and move outdoors.
I was certainly a free-range kid. I used to ride my bike or walk to school every day and it wasn’t close. We lived just over a mile from the school and my sister and I would walk up the street, picking up our neighbor friends along the way. I even remember being allowed to play on the playground after school hours. It was fun. Now at my daughter’s school they want the children off the school grounds as soon as possible because they don’t want the liability. The school gates are closed and the playgrounds are off limits. We have a beautiful community park next to the school, but the HOA doesn’t want the children to leave the designated play area because they claim the children could break a sprinkler head—seriously!
I thought that author Richard Louv had an interesting point when he wrote his book, Last Child in the Woods. He has a self-created term called “nature deficit disorder” in which he describes the psychological and developmental issues surrounding a generation of children being raised indoors, with limited time outside.
In 2008 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommended
that adults get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Currently, only about 20 percent of Americans are meeting that requirement. Similarly with children, a longitudinal study showed that only 20 percent of American teenagers are meeting the healthy recommendation of physical activity. The study found that children at age 9 were getting around three hours of physical exercise a week. By the time these same children reached high school (age 15) they were only getting around 50 minutes of physical activity a week and 35 minutes on the weekend.
So the question is, how can we raise “free-range” children in a society that locks its gates and won’t let children explore a park because of sprinkler heads? One of the ways this is getting addressed is in urban development. Builders and developers are making communities more “pedestrian friendly” with a design emphasis on safer streets, schools closer to home developments and parks integrated into the community design.
The next step is to use the resources we have. One of my favorite lines from the movie Field of Dreams is when Kevin Costner is walking in his corn field and hears a voice saying, "If you built it, he will come.” Using the parks and recreational opportunities are our privilege and responsibility. They have been built—now will you come and use them?
Over the next week, think about how much time you and your family explore the outdoors. Could you find ways to get better use out of the resources in your community?