Saturday, May 31, 2014

Be Out There, Get Out There! Nature, That Is!

The window is closing over at Eagle Cove School...we are in single digits counting down the school's closing.
 Every day closer we get to our last day (which is swiftly approaching), another layer of sadness falls.  Add in, we've now had almost exactly 5 months of sadness, knowing since the first week of January that it is coming.

I am a tech teacher, and my new job for the fall is largely related to how to incorporate technology in the classroom. I am going to love it, love teaching the kids with iPads, and love how to encourage teachers how to use technology in the classroom.  I am a major fan of my iPad, smartphone, laptop, and learning on all 3.  They all are vital tools for me in becoming a lifelong learner.

And yet....

As I mentioned the other day, I've been doing a lot of homework as of late, and of course I started with those eco things that are near and dear to my heart--which sometimes counter other things that are near and dear to my heart.  One of my first articles to review was “The Whole Child: Developing Mind, Body, & Spirit through Outdoor Play”--a 12-page “fact sheet” embedded here & sponsored by the “Be Out There” Campaign of National Wildlife Federation. As the United States becomes a more “tech-centric” society, the information will only continue to be current.

By perusing the embedded document, you can see that the article begins by painting a picture of a typical day-in-the-life of the 2010 child: TV with breakfast, school with little/no recess, homework in front of the TV, texting or computer time squeezed in between activities, followed up with a less-than-healthy drive-thru dinner on the way to organized sports. Screen time (and planned time) has taken over childhood. Overtly missing are bike rides, dandelion picking, and dirt digging. Statistics from the article include:

  • “Children devote only 4-7 minutes a day of unstructured outdoor play.”
  •  “Only ¼ of children play outside daily compared to ¾ a generation ago.”
  • “Most [children] log an excess of 32 hours per week of TV time.”
  • “By the time most children attend kindergarten, they have watched more than 5, 000 hours of television.”
  • “In the last 20 years, childhood obesity rates have more than doubled.”
  • The CDC now estimates that 4.5 million children aged 5-17 have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.”

Given these statistics and the fact that children are highly out of shape, organizations such as the NWF, the Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” program are trying to pair children more with nature (in an unstructured way) in order to increase children’s overall physical activity. This becomes increasingly important as more and more schools are reducing recess time (or eliminating it all together). Additionally, “indoor-only” kids have a higher risk of serious health problems including obesity, vision problems (more cases of myopia), vitamin D deficiency, and diabetes. By spending time outdoors, there are significant mind, body, and spirit benefits for children. By taking advantage of nature, children: have increased imagination, are better able to problem solve (and do better on standardized tests), more calm and able to cope with stress, have stronger social bonds, are more compassionate (and possibly happier), have stronger bones and immunity due to greater levels of Vitamin D, and overall healthier!

Of course, it does make me sad, as we at Eagle Cove School embody the page 5 quote by Sheila Franklin.  And yet, we're closing.

All that aside, tis Fact Sheet does an excellent job of providing some eye opening statistics (with too many to list here). Educators and parents should walk away from this article knowing what needs to be done—turn off the tech, and kick the kids outside!! Part of what makes a child ready for learning is a healthy mind brought about by a healthy body. Kids who don’t move (and particularly, it would seem, boys) end up having a higher percentage of behavior problems in school because they haven’t gotten their wiggles out enough to concentrate. Getting outdoors would help them have much higher level of achievement. Additionally, “outdoor kids” tend to see things differently than “indoor kids.” They suffer less incidences of nearsightedness (which has been on the rise over time, due perhaps to up-close screen reading. The other benefits are strong (see above). Additionally, with antidepressant medication on the rise for not only adults but also children (even preschool kids aged 0-5!), one could argue that getting outdoors and having access to free time could also help counter mental health problems. Two of the 12 pages of the Fact Sheet list ideas for caregivers, health care providers, community leaders, and educators as to how to incorporate outdoor activities into the lives of children. In addition to these resources, there are also listings of the numbers of calories burned for approximately 50 outdoor activities.

The Fact Sheet was ripe with a bounty of information for educators and parents, and it falls in the category of “Things Everyone In America Should Read!” There is no argument that there are many benefits in education with both television and technology, yet one should not overlook the ability to learn by what surrounds outdoors. Children today need to be trained how to find the balance. As parents and educators, it is our jobs to help show them how.

Back to me:  My new job ahead has a lot of potential and it will be a great organization to be a part of.  Yet, it has yet to become a Maryland "Green" School...almost hard to imagine when I am leaving an 8 year MD "Green" School.  I think I see some of my homework ahead--not only planning some amazing iPad activities for students & teachers alike, but I see a "Green" School certification needed for the future!!  And I refocus my vision, and "re-see" my own and my children's need to turn off the tech and get ourselves outsides!!

Images from 
Blue boat picture of our campus from my campus, my phone, & InstaFramePro
MD Green School:
NWF logo from
Let's Move logo:

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