Take the kids outside
The last week of October has officially been dubbed “Take a Child Outside Week.”
Of course, it’s always a good idea to get kids outside. Such a good idea that I’m trying to get over my natural dislike for naming weeks, months and days for any and every available cause, cure, activity or product. (Did you celebrate National Pierogi Day? It was Thursday.)
The end of October might seem an odd time to celebrate “Take a Child Outside Week,” what with the likelihood of cold, blustery weather and rain, or even snow. That’s because the idea was born in North Carolina, where the climate is a little more favorable than in Upstate New York, and where it never snows on Halloween.
Still, we all know kids — and grown-ups, for that matter — don’t spend enough time outdoors, in any weather. And that can have dire consequences, from obesity to stress to a disconnect from the natural world to Seasonal Affective Disorder.
A friend of mine started suffering all kinds of depressing and stressful syndromes in the years after she moved to Washington, D.C. Know what cured her? Rock Creek Park. A long walk or a jog with her dog, through a park so dense you can forget you’re in a city, lifted a world of worries from her shoulders.
“My therapist said I’m the kind of person who needs to be in nature every day,” my friend told me. “Does that sound crazy to you?”
Not at all. What sounded crazy to me was going from house to subway to work to house every day, with no walk in the park. “I think everyone is the kind of person who needs to be in nature every day,” I told her.
And that doesn’t mean we can’t live in cities. Or that we need to hike a mountain every day, or spend all our weekends in national parks.
A walk around the block at lunch time, or after supper, can make a huge difference in your outlook. A stroll through a park, or a ride on a bike path can change your perspective. Getting the kids off computers and onto a swing set just makes sense. Hey, fresh air really is good for people.
The idea behind “Take a Child Outside Week” is to “help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world,” according to the Adirondack Museum, which is participating by hosting third-grade field trips on Oct. 25.
“By arming parents, teachers, and other caregivers with resources on outdoor activities, the goal is to help children across the country develop a better understanding and appreciation of the environment in which they live,” the museum says.
It’s a simple idea. If our kids don’t grow up learning to love the natural world, they’ll have little inclination or incentive to protect and preserve it. (Maybe those people who throw trash out their car windows as they drive down the road just never spent enough time outside.)
On the other hand, if kids are outdoors watching the leaves change, swimming in lakes, catching polliwogs or walking through the woods, they’ll gain an understanding and connection to their environment. And, along the way, get exercise, fresh air and sunshine.
The easiest way to “break down obstacles” is to open the door. Just kick the kids outside! Better yet, go with them. Collect leaves and pine cones in the park, count birds or toads, watch the moon rise.
We shouldn’t need an excuse to take our kids, or ourselves, outdoors. It’s the kind of thing we can do every day. But in case you need an occasion, mark Oct. 24-30 on your calendar, and take a child outside.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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