Thursday, July 2, 2009

No Child Left Inside

Sticking out of a pile of dead branches at Glenwood Children's Park is a hand-lettered sign: "These materials may be used in the park for forts and other structures."

Madison, Wisconsin's Capital Times explores the movement started in part by Richard Louv's award-winning book: "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder."

Free play in nature is a vanishing pastime, even in nature-friendly Madison, says Sam Dennis, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dennis, a father of three who's involved with several local and university-led initiatives to get kids outdoors, pays attention to the ways children interact with their environment. And, like many educators, parents and health professionals, he doesn't like what he's hearing, reading and seeing.

"Nationally, we're finding that most kids spend their free time indoors. And when they are outside, very often they are tied up in some structured activity," Dennis says. "Madison is full of little parks and open spaces where kids could pile rocks, play with sticks, get muddy. Where are the kids? How do we connect them with these spaces where they can enjoy free-range play?"

Childhood obesity and diabetes, climate change, and dependence on foreign oil - these are all significant challenges. Giving our children opportunities for active, unstructured play where they can interact with nature (both in the urban landscape or out in county parks), become environmental stewards, and carve out a niche in the city for people can only help.

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