Green Play, Fun Conservation

Which is a greater threat to nature: chainsaws, bulldozers, motorized off road vehicles or the television/Internet? In my opinion, screens whether big or small are the greatest threat to nature, especially when pondering the fact that on average Canadians spend weekly 26.8 hours in front of the TV and 13.4 hours on the Internet (CRTC, 2007).

Excessive screen time might explain why children are more able to identify corporate logos than insects, trees and flowers. At the same time rates of childhood obesity in North American is rising and more children are medicated for numerous disorders.

This Earth Day let’s change the tide and make a commitment as a community toward green play not only for a day but forever. Parents, grandparents, ‘significant adults’ in little peoples’ lives, join me as we get offline, turn off the TV and go outside to play. The Elk Valley is full of endless opportunities right in our backyard, it is easy and low to no cost! You will be stimulating a life long love of nature and building future ‘green’ leaders.

Many of the leaders in the conservation movement sight direct experience with nature as the most important influence over their environmental attitude and activism. When I think back to my own youth, most of my time was spent outside riding across Saskatchewan’s native prairies and later on horseback exploring the forests along the Elbow River in Alberta’s foothills. I loved to build tree forts, take a picnic to the secret forest on the ‘island’ or role-play early explorers.

Although intuitive, evidence in current academic research shows that it is important, healthy and fun for children to have frequent, varied opportunity for play outdoors, especially in natural vegetation. Children who get outside in unstructured play are happier, healthier and smarter. They are also more self disciplined, confident, focused, creative, cooperative, better problem solvers, optimistic, not to mention physically fit. Who as a parent does not want these benefits for our youth?

So how do we change the direction and make it more normal for children to go out in the woods and wonder? Balancing risk is essential. Our obsession with ‘stranger danger’ and perceived aggressive wildlife is worse for our kids than unplugging electronics. Parents teach your kids how to play safely outside. Expose them to natural hazards and equip them with strategies to cope with risk.

Nurtured by a sense of community, cultivated by connection to place, it is in the family that ties to nature are strengthened. Become a family that explores nature together nurturing the bond with each other and the environment that sustains life.

Here are a few tips to get started. First there is never bad weather to go outside, only bad clothing, so help your children stay warm and dry by being prepared. Pack a snack and water to keep them energized. Go out into natural vegetation. Hike a trail, stroll along the river or go to a forest or wetland. Learn together in simple unstructured play. If you want prepare a theme like birding, trees and leaves, tracking wildlife, natural shapes, life under rocks and logs, and looking for all the colors of the rainbow, or simply let their curiosity direct your focus. Climb trees, scramble over rocks, skip stones, or sit by the river.

The mental, spiritual and physical health of our community depends on a healthy environment. Children need the assistance of adults to nurture a connection to the beauties of the outdoors. Green play is the link to conserving nature.

Other links to explore this theme: www.childrenandnature.org, http://videophillia.org, email Elk Valley Young Naturalist Club at YNCelkvalley@hotmail.com.