This is an article Gary was asked to write for publication in a magazine. Really great points to think about while we share with other why being outside is so important to our lives.
Nature and the Outdoors: A Healthy Option and a Summer Camp Specialty
“Out the door after breakfast – in by dark.” I cannot say that was my motto, but it was a way of life as a child in the 60’s. I had two rules: Be nice and stay close enough to hear my mom yelling for me.
That world of play and active interaction with the outdoors is a thing of the past. The average child or youth in the state of Tennessee spends approximately 7 minutes outside according to the Tennessee Wildlife Federations’ “No Child Left Inside” program.
There are many reasons for this new and growing way of life. Richard Louv, author of “Last child in the Woods: Saving our children from Nature Deficit Disorder”, shares a story of a child during his research saying, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electric outlets are”. Our children and the adults they are becoming are so out of touch with the natural world, in part, because they are so plugged into the world of virtual reality.
In addition, parents live in fear of the risks associated with sending their children unattended into the outdoor world. Air pollution, fear of abduction, traffic and even disease carrying insects are all risks that are media driven into the parent’s consciousness. Yet, the results are not healthy for our children physically or mentally. Childhood obesity, social awkwardness, attention deficit disorder, depression and a lessened ability to problem solve are just a few of the problems facing children who rarely interact with nature and the outdoors.
Play is important, but spontaneous outdoor play and interaction with nature are consistently correlated to positive child development, lower obesity rates and improved problem solving skills to name a few.
Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camping Association (ACA), in her blog post of April 1, 2013 notes:
“When play is improved and regulated by those participating (kids), what happens?
It seems kids are practicing self-regulation. They are using their imaginations and
creating ideas upon which to innovate. They are using what many call executive
functions: planning, problem solving and reasoning. These are elements that many
bemoan are missing today, causing kids to disengage, disconnect and drop out.”
Parents and virtual reality can only do so much in the development of a child into a healthy, well adjusted adult. There are just some things parents are ineffective in developing in their children without interaction with nature and the spontaneity of outdoor play with friends. Parents cannot make friends for their children, give them physical exercise, develop appropriate independence, and keep them safe outside without constant supervision and so on.
But, a week or two summer camp can and will offer these critical things. Kids tied to the electronic world need a break – they need to play in safety and interact with others in an environment where they can build community and grow in self-esteem. That leads to the solution that is Summer Camp: a phenomenal education and recreational program that is ever available in both secular and sacred communities. In all that camp offers, it is usually centered in the natural environment or the outdoors.
At camp, children and youth meet new people, develop friendships that sometimes last a lifetime, and are nurtured by caring older youth and young adults that model effective leadership. Camp builds self-esteem, enhances social development and allows them safe and natural avenues to learn and practice new life skills.
Peter Scales, Ph.D., senior fellow with Search Institute, says, “Camp is one of the few institutions where young people can experience and satisfy their need for physical activity, creative expression and true participation in a community environment.”
Nature Deficit Disorder. It is not a disease but it is a serious problem hindering the development of healthy children, youth and the adults they will become and have already become. For the health of your youth or child, give summer camp a try this season. It can be, and often is, a life changing experience. See you outdoors during the Summer of ’13.
The Reverend Gary D. Lawson, Sr.
Lakeshore United Methodist Camp and Retreat Center
Eva, TN 38333