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Children and Nature Research Shows "Life's better outside.®"

Girls riding bikes at Resaca De La Palma State Park

A growing body of books and research studies reveals a serious issue: today's kids are losing touch with nature. On its face, this may seem like primarily a wildlife or environmental concern, but research shows it has broad ramifications for the mental, emotional, physical and educational well-being of children.

"Kids don't develop a relationship with nature by watching it on the Discovery Channel," begins a recent article in Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. "They need to feel the wind, smell leaves and wildflowers, run their fingers over rocks and make personal contact with other living things."

Simplicity is the beauty of the magazine's 50 Ways to Get Kids Hooked on the Outdoors article. Captured in brief paragraphs, most of the 50 Ways don't cost anything, don't require advance reservations and don't necessitate loading the family car with equipment.

The article ends with references to book and Web resources for families to take things to the next level. First on the list is Richard Louv's groundbreaking Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. This book rocked the wildlife conservation world and reverberated through child education and health circles when it came out in 2006. A new edition is due out this spring that adds 100 actions people can take to create change in their communities, schools, and families. It carries a message of hope, but it also reviews a growing stack of research studies that link the nature-deficit problem to issues like childhood obesity, educational and developmental challenges and other ills.

Louv's book and tireless speaking schedule have spawned a nationwide movement called No Child Left Inside. The Children and Nature Network is bringing politicians, pediatricians, educators, architects, environmentalists, wildlife scientists and an astounding diversity of others into an expanding circle of supporters. For example, car manufacturer Subaru recently devoted the cover of its quarterly magazine Drive to promoting the children and nature movement. Policy-makers in Connecticut, New Mexico, California and Washington have created programs and legislation encouraging outdoor time for school children. The Environmental Alliance of New Mexico is proposing the Leave No Child Inside Act, which would generate revenue for an outdoor educational programming through a 1 percent tax on new TVs and video games.

A teen tries his hand at fishing

In the Lone Star State, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department partnered with advertising agency GSD&M, which worked pro bono to create an initiative called Life's better outside.®, motivating urban parents to make time to enjoy state parks and other outdoor activities with their children. Under the Life's better outside.® brand, TPWD promotes various outdoor recreation and education programs. For example, the department partners with city parks to offer Texas Outdoor Family weekend workshops where parents and kids learn to pitch tents, cook over campfires and reconnect with nature.

The Children and Nature movement is also gathering steam in Texas, where The Conservation Fund, Houston Mayor Bill White and others are involved in a national fundraising effort to support the cause. Also, the Texas Pediatrics Society has developed a Childhood Obesity Toolkit (PDF) for health care providers. The toolkit encourages limiting the time children spend on TV, video games, and computers and promoting physical activity, including a "healthy lifestyle prescription" that recommends one hour of outdoor play every day.

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