Send the kids out to play!

Activité éducative La Course aux arbres - Maison de l'arbre, Jardin botanique de Montréal
Send the kids out to play!

The lack of nature in children’s lives could have serious consequences for their health.

44 hours:that is how long the average American child spends in front of a television screen or gaming console per week. In the US, just 6% of kids aged between none and thirteen play outdoors in a normal week. In Great Britain, a survey revealed a stunning fact: 20% of kids have never climbed a tree! Today’s children play outside less and less often—much less than their parents did when they were young.

Same issues on both sides of the border

American author Richard Louv raised the alarm in 2005 with his book "Last Child in the Woods". Studies show that lack of contact with nature may be at the root of major health issues that are increasingly common among young Americans: hyperactivity, obesity, attention disorders, behavioural problems and psychological issues linked to stress. Louv explores the phenomenon he calls " nature deficit disorder ". In his book entitled "Perdus sans la nature", published last September, journalist François Cardinal describes the same worrying trend among young Quebecers.

Try this test at home

Still not convinced? Try this simple test, proposed by ecologist and sociologist Laure Waridel. She suggests showing a group of kids the logos of 20 companies (Pepsi, Nike, Adidas, etc.), then repeating the exercise with illustrations of birds commonly found in your area. While they will identify most of the logos with ease, few will be able to name even a single bird. This experiment shows just how disconnected from nature the kids of today are, in favour of the over-stimulation of virtual environments. Many authors report that one of the main causes of nature deficit disorder is parents’ overprotective attitude—the “fear of strangers” syndrome largely fed by the media. Today’s parents feel more reassured when their children are at home rather than out having adventures in a nearby park or vacant lot. Another reason is that there are fewer vacant lots around these days—most have been built up. Last fall, the Biodôme set up a new school program to help kids discover biodiversity in their neighbourhood.

But as adults, are we any different?

How many trees or birds can you identify in your neighbourhood or at the cottage? This weekend, send your kids out to play! Ask them to observe nature and only come back once they have found at least five things. Then the whole family can have fun identifying them. It’s not only good for their health but also for the nature around them—you protect what you know.

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