Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Connecting children to nature

A reminder: Richard Louv, the best-selling author who coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" will be at Freedom Park on Wednesday to talk about the importance of connecting children with nature.

While there, Louv will help launch a new nonprofit called the N.C. Children and Nature Coalition, an organization designed to get children outdoors. The group will act as a clearinghouse for nature ideas and opportunities for children, assist with research on the topic and advocate for child/nature policy.

The coaltion couldn't come at a better time. Concerns over childhood obesity continue to grow, as children are snared indoors by technology. Money's tight for many families -- and nature's a free ticket to enjoyment, exercise and stress reduction.

"There's no barrier to entry; all you need is a pair of tennis shoes to experience nature," said Josh Thomas of Charlotte, a coalition executive committee member and chair of the N.C. Sierra Club Central Piedmont Group's executive committee. "Everyone's got a pair of shoes, and it's not like you need a $300 backpack.

"Simpler is better these days. And we've got such great parks here in Mecklenburg County."

Louv has been at the forefront of the movement to expose kids to nature. His appearance is being sponsored by the Sierra Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program. Last week, my colleague, Observer environmental writer Bruce Henderson, interviewed Louv by email.

In part, here's what he said about the importance of that connection:

"Social and technological changes in the past three decades have accelerated a dramatic shift to indoor activities, even as research suggests that children and young people who regularly experience nature are healthier, happier and test better in school.

"Recent research also suggests that exposure to nature can improve all children's cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression."

Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," chairs the national Children and Nature Network. The N.C. coalition, still recruiting organizations, will be a part of that network.

Louv will open Wednesday's event at noon at Freedom Park's band shell. He'll speak and take questions until 1 p.m., when the coalition will be officially unveiled. At 1:30 p.m., as part of the kick-off, the Carolina Raptor Center will unleash a bird recently nursed back to health. And from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m., anyone interested is invited to brain-storm ideas for the coalition.

"This is an important movement and we're thrilled to have Richard Louv kick it off in North Carolina," Thomas said. "We haven't been on the bleeding edge of the movement -- but we're also not the last one to show up.

"Taking the family outside not only creates a time to spend with the children, but it gives everyone the ability to exhale."