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Taking the kids outside.

It's like eating healthy or voting.

You should do it. But do you?

If you're the average mom and dad, you probably don't.

So say environmentalists and nature educators who think a little prodding might induce parents and others into some outdoor exploration with the children.

They're signing on to Take a Child Outside Week, an inaugural event that is growing faster than its founder in Raleigh thought possible.

"I honestly thought this was going to be a little North Carolina-focused pilot year," said Liz Baird, director of school programs for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. "It's just taken off like hotcakes."

More than 70 partners across North America have signed on for the week, which runs Monday through Sunday.

It is centered on a Web site, takeachildoutside.org. Here, adults sign in and check a box that says, "I agree to take a child outside to explore the natural world at least once during national 'Take a Child Outside Week.' "

And then, once this outing is completed, the site allows adults and children to document the experience online.

Instead of building forts and catching crayfish after school, Baird and others say children today live highly structured lives with soccer at 4 p.m. and homework, video games and TV until bedtime.

Free play outside in nature does not translate directly into a multiple-choice answer on a test and is no longer valued, they fear. Children are missing out.

"Parents feel like if you just let your kid run around outdoors, you're not doing what you need to do to get your child into the best college," Baird said. "The skills and experiences and knowledge that you learn when you're outdoors are really the skills that you need when you get out in the real world. You learn how to solve problems. You learn how to be observant. All your senses come alive."

Their rallying cry is fueled by a two-year-old book by Richard Louv that warns about children with "nature-deficit disorder" and statistics that show child obesity is getting worse.

They worry that children who don't spend time outside won't develop a connection to nature and appreciate it as adults.

"If today's kids don't have a sense of that connection to the natural world, they're less likely to protect it when they get older," Baird said.

Spotty attendance

Locally, the concern is buoyed by lagging participation in nature programs.

This week, the staff at Hemlock Bluffs Nature Preserve in Cary canceled some programs because of lack of interest. The park serves about 4,500 people a year in programs but has room for as many as 3,000 more.

"When you think about how large a population Cary has and that each of our programs has a maximum group size of 10 and a lot of those aren't filled, it's kind of sad," said Lisa Plante, program specialist at the park.

School classes, homeschool groups and Boy and Girl Scouts still fill nature education programs at some area parks, though school visits have dropped off at others, including at Hemlock Bluffs.

But the participation in public programs, the kinds that parents sign their children up for, are mixed. Sometimes they're full, local educators say. Often they're almost empty.

D'Nise Hefner has an idea why it is happening.

Hefner, the educational program director at Blue Jay Point County Park in Wake County, recently mailed a survey to parents with children roughly 9 to 12 years old to find out why they were leaving the park's programs. The No. 1 reason was a busy family schedule.

Blue Jay Point also is seeing a decrease in programs geared toward families with children ages 5 and up, Hefner said.

publicado por mh às 11:43
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