your Kids out of the Classroom!
published in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise
No Child Left Inside
Studies have shown that less than 8 % of high school students have
the opportunity to pursue traditional team sports after graduation;
following college, this percentage drops to less that 2%. These numbers
support the importance of instilling in our children
the necessary knowledge, appreciation and skill sets to easily pursue
individually accessible opportunities for outdoor recreation whether
biking, hiking, hunting, paddling, golf or angling.
Nationwide, studies show that the younger generation (est. 73
million under 18 years) is losing interest in participating in
traditional outdoor experiences. As hunting (down 12% ) and
angling ( down 7% ) license sales
continue to decline nationwide, and the average age of participants
continues to climb (NY big game hunters now average 51yrs of age); it
is vital that outdoor sports proponents and conservation organizations
recognize the need to address this important issue soon, there may be
no one left to fill our boots.
The drugs of the ‘turn on-tune out’ ‘60’s and 70’s generation have
been replaced with more alluring electronic attractions in the age of
computers, iPods, text messaging, X-Box and TiVo, which can record
programming from over 500 cable or satellite networks. Currently, it is
estimated the average urban youth spends
approximately 38.5 hours a week staring at an electronic screen.
age 12, they can recognize over 1000 corporate logos but cannot
identify 5 birds or 5 plants in their own backyard. “I like to play
indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the
electrical outlets are.” reports a fourth grader in Richard Louv’s new
"Last Child in the Woods".
The author explains how the nation’s youth are suffering
from a condition he labels as ‘nature deficit disorder’ which he
directly links to lack of exposure to nature among today’s wired
generation. When did the forests and lakes become so boring that kids
to turn to electronics for their entertainment? If we don’t take
time and energy to make the outdoor experience fun and exciting for the
next generation of kids; the land will have no value to them. And
it has no value, there will be no need to protect it. We only
appreciate what we understand!
Compounding this trend are societal changes in the composition of
families that are increasely moving towards single parent families,
where females are the head of the household. Traditionally, men
had the responsibility of taking the kids camping or fishing and the
lack of a male figure in the single parent household often means that
the person responsible for introducing kids to the outdoors is no
As a country, we've never been fatter. Today, it is sobering to
note that almost 65 percent of adults in the United States are either
overweight or obese. What is even sadder is our children are on pace to
be significantly fatter than we are by the time they reach adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the
percentage of children ages 6 to 11 who are overweight has increased
nearly 300 percent the past 25 years. The numbers are nearly identical
for teenagers. It's no secret that kids are gaining weight with the
America. The International Journal of Pediatric Obesity reported that
if trends continue, nearly half of North and South American children
will be overweight by 2010.
As a result, children today have a shorter life expectancy than
their parents for the first time in 100 years according to William J.
Klish, professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine.
The health implications are scary. For example, Type 2 diabetes was
once considered an adult disease. Klish notes that the percentage
children and adolescents found to have Type 2 diabetes at Texas
Children's Hospital has increased to 27 percent in 2002 from less than
1 percent 20 years ago.
Sadly, the number of physical education classes in our schools is
steadily declining, despite an array of experts stressing more activity
is crucial if children are to achieve a healthy weight. Today, Illinois
is the only state that still requires daily
physical education classes for students K to 12. By high school,
children are basically finished with physical education. The result is
that grade-school children are now 24 percent more active than
While traditional sports such as baseball, soccer or football
fill a need in the development of a youth, in recent years, the
traditional gym class has changed for the better. Physical
is concerned with fostering physical activities that can be pursued for
life. Across the country and as near as the next small town,
physical education programs teach non-traditional recreational pursuits
as educators realize that practical physical education programs can
insure a lifetime of wellness. Physical education instructors have come
to realize that once a
student departs high school or college, the opportunities to
participate in traditional team sports rapidly diminish. With age,
business and family responsibilities make it increasingly
difficult to gather the requisite number of players for a game of
baseball, soccer or football. Yet, it is never too hard to find a
partner to hike, bike, paddle
or fish with. This is where the process of life skills and
activities education becomes important.
Locally, both Northwood School and North Country School have a
heritage of providing excellent programs for the development of
recreational skill sets for activities such as rock and ice climbing,
canoeing, hiking and skiing. Incrementally, several local
public schools have begun to offer
similar life skills education programs in order to permit students to
take advantage of the region’s bounty of natural resources. Possibly
the most progressive program has been offered at Tupper
Lake Central School. The school’s athletic director, Rick Cowles
successfully pursued over a half million dollars in funding from the
Physical Education for Progress (PEP) grants available through The
Carol M. White Physical Education Program. Over the years, it’s been
easy to find basketballs, baseballs, football and track spikes in
Tupper Lake’s phys-ed department. A lot has changed!
Now, students monitor fitness in a state of the art, ‘Cardio Room’
where they can chart performance through a program of technology
reporting provided by heart rate monitors and fitness evaluation
systems. ‘Gym’ equipment now consists of canoes and kayaks, mountain
snowshoes, nordic skis and in line skates. They also have maps
compasses for orienteering, flyfishing rods and curling stones for use
at the school’s ice arena. Tupper Lake graduates now leave with the
skills, training and
knowledge to pursue positive outdoor recreational opportunities in
their own backyard. And the Adirondack park, encompassing over
million acres, is a pretty impressive backyard.
last week’s column, which detailed the current
generation’s growing detachment from the land; I would like to offer
some further insights. The cyberage has changed the face of childhood
as we knew it. Too
many children in today’s society are attaining their knowledge of the
outside world from television, videos or the computer, rather than from
direct contact in the outdoors.
Although Adirondack residents are somewhat insulated from the
problem, due to our proximity to an abundance of natural resources in
the park, we are not immune. Kids will be kids, and if electronic
devices are the cool toys of the era. They will subscribe to the latest
trend. Big business will see to it. You have to understand the
economics. There’s a lot more money to
be made if kids require the latest X-Box, video game, flat screen-
television or other electronic entertainment device. While a simple
walk in the woods may be quaint, entertaining and healthy; there’s
little money in it.
Take a look at the advertising trends during the Saturday morning
cartoon hours. You’ll find plenty of information on the latest
electronic gadgets, but precious little advertising time is devoted to
promoting unstructured, outdoor play.
a child’s health
It was most interesting to read a recently released report from the
American Academy of pediatrics that details the need children have for
old- fashioned playtime. The report found that too much emphasis is
placed on structured
activities. With Moms carting the kids to one scheduled event
another, there is little time left for random recreation. “Numerous
studies have shown that unstructured play has many
benefits. It can foster creativity, problem solving and analytical
skills and help kids to develop healthy relationships” the study
Free wheeling, fun time in an outdoor environment breeds
confidence, nimble bodies, broader more expansive minds, sharper
senses and a more concrete comprehension of one’s place on Earth. While
most Adirondackers thoroughly understand the fun and
enjoyable benefits of outdoor life, it is interesting to note the
therapeutic aspects of the outdoor environment.
Historically, the tuberculosis cure industry was founded on the
curative properties of the cold, clean, fresh balsam scented air.
porches, an architectural amenity designed to allow tuberculosis
patients maximum exposure to the outdoors, are still evident throughout
Saranac Lake village. However what has often been overlooked are the
spiritual, physical and social benefits of the outdoors lifestyle.
These aspects are considered dimensions of overall health and are
readily identifiable as a beneift of the outdoor lifestyle. “The
wilderness is a place where a man can become lost and yet find
himself in the process” stated the noted psychoanalyst Sigmond Freud,
during a visit to the Adirondacks in the 1890’s.
Indeed, time spent in the outdoors is the basis for a growing
“wilderness-based therapy” industry being conducted in the park.
Currently, at least four programs utilize the Adirondacks for such
“Outward Bound” type adventures while over a dozen colleges implement
similar programs as a component of their freshman orientations.
spent in the woods offers both solitude and silence. It
provides an abundance of stimuli that can lead to conversation,
contemplation or meditation. Indeed “recreation” , when broken down,
means to recreate- one’s mind, body, spirit or relationship.
Kids placed in nature develop a “naturalist intelligence” as
Harvard professor Howard Gardener explained when he added it to the
list of accepted intelligence quotients, ( linguistic,
logical-mathematical, bodily- kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and
There is a growing body of evidence that suggests kids have an
innate need for outdoor play and activity. It’s a part of our
composition and constitution. The “Biophelia Hypothesis”, although
controversial, suggests that we are still hunter- gatherers and
biologically we have not changed much. There remains something within
us that requires the natural form. It is believed that we need
in ways we still don’t fully understand.
In her book, The Sense of Wonder Rachael Carson writes that in the
heart of every child is an inborn sense of wonder waiting to be guided
to it’s full potential. Whether this sense of wonder thrives or
shrivels depends on each child finding the “companionship of at least
one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him he joy, excitement
and mystery of the world we live in.” It may just be the curiosity
every child has for nature, or the
knowledge that you can acquire from a walk through the wilderness.
Whatever the means of exposure, it creates a new light in a child's
eyes. Exposure to the outdoors is one of the most valuable things
kid can carry with them for the rest of their lives. The benefits of an
outdoor life are essentially limited only to the
imagination of the user. However, it is quite obvious that they
far reaching and life long.
back to the wild
topic that I have frequently covered, I again
revisit the concept of “No Child Left Inside”. Never before in
history of our nation have we encountered a generation of youth that is
so completely detached from the natural world. As technology continues
to progress at warp speed, the prospects of
returning our ‘virtual generation’ to their roots becomes ever more
In the book, Last Child in the Woods, author Richard Louv labels
the child-nature estrangement as “nature deficit disorder” and details
a pressing need to unplug today’s “wired generation”.
As USA Today reported in a recent article on the topic, “The
fundamental nature of childhood has changed in a single generation. The
unstructured childhood has all but vanished and today, childhood is
spent mostly indoors.”
While this may not hold true for the majority of America’s rural
youth, it is becoming increasing apparent in most other areas of our
society. This should be cause alarm and action. How did it get
this way; especially in a nation that has always
taken pride in it’s connection to the land? This connection is a
component of our history, our traditions and of who we are as a
people. Remember America the Beautiful?
Our ancestors conquered the wilderness; they tamed the west and
settled the land. For untold generations, our connection to
an unspoken truth and for many it has been the main and sometimes, the
only means of entertainment. Thus, it is startling that within the
timeframe of a single
generation, our country is well on the way to losing it’s age old
relationship with the land.
How did we come so far so fast? Parents of the current generation were
brought up with an absolute
connection to the land. It was on TV, with Daniel Boone, Andy Griffith
Show, the American Sportsman and a host of westerns that brought
into our living rooms. In the late ‘60’s and throughout the ‘70’s there
was a true
back-to-the-land movement. We had the backpacking boom and a
burgeoning environmental movement that made us aware of the need to
protect nature. In our schools, the fresh concept of ‘outdoor
the outdoor environment to enhance the standard curriculum. It
was an exciting time as colleges pumped out teachers who
embraced the concept of outdoor education and brought it to numerous
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these 1970’s graduates turned
educators are already several years into their retirement and there
were few replacements. Today, the concept of outdoor education is no
longer at the forefront of school administrator’s worries, as budget
woes and standardized test scores have taken precedent over time spent
outdoors. It was a more innocent era where simple recreation was
back lots and open fields with pickup baseball, kick ball or tree
houses and forts in the woods. The outdoor playground was our reality,
for often there was simply nothing else. Unstructured outdoor play
became an essential component of a
traditional childhood. It was fact of life, random recreation was
there for the taking, inexpensive, unsupervised and free of most side
effects beyond the occasional bruised knee, scratched arm or sore
In the decades since that time, technology has advanced at a rapid
pace while human populations shifted to growing urban areas. As a
result, first hand contact with nature itself, declined. Without
efforts to the contrary, even memories of our contact with the lands
will be essentially lost to memory.
the average kid spent 4 to 5 hours a day playing in the
outdoors and double this on weekends. According to a recent study
by the National Sporting Goods
Association, the number of young people age 7-17 who biked in 2004 was
down over 20 % from 1994. Angling participation rates have fallen
10.4% in the same decade and for the youngest bracket, age 7-11, rates
have declined by over 25%. Participation in hunting has plummeted
over 25% in the same timeframe.
As a socety, we’ve spawned a lot of couch potatoes and the problem
isn’t just at home. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
reports that in high
schools, where scheduling permits more choices, participation in phys
ed courses has fallen from 41.6% in 1991 to 28.4% today. The
teen spends less than 16 minutes per week in an aerobic activity. It is
no wonder that this shift towards a sedentary, indoor
lifestyle is reflected in children’s health. In the 1960’s, only
children were considered overweight. Today, it is estimated that
16% of our youth have trouble squeezing into their knickers. The
International Journal of Pediatric Obesity reports that if this
trend continues, “nearly half of all North American children will be
overweight by 2010.” As a nation, we’ve never been fatter! Almost
65% of adults are
overweight or obese and the percentage of children aged 6-11 who are
overweight has increased nearly 300% in the last 25 years. The health
care implications of these trends are staggering. It’s
a proven fact that if kids are to be physically active, their parents
must be a key ingredient in the equation.
For the first time in over 100 years, children of today will have a
shorter life expectancy than their parents. Compounding the matter is
the dramatic rise in ‘virtual
entertainment’ and the corresponding threats to outdoor play.
the average kid spends 5.5 hours a day with an electronic device of
They can’t escape it! Electronic screen and devices have infested
our existence, whether it is the big screen in the living room, a
hand-held, video game, a computer or a cell phone. Even our
automobiles have flip down screens.
“Tune in, tune out” may have been a battle cry of the ‘60’s
generation, but the current one has embraced the concept more fully
than any previous. Never before has a society been so well connected
simultaneously so detached. Our children have been rapidly
to a two dimensional world, where sound and sight are the only
stimulated. For many, the virtual existence is
But kids cannot touch, taste, feel or smell a video screen. It
doesn’t blow your hair back, taste bad or bring you an adrenaline rush;
but in some ways, it really does stink. Through this process, we have
allowed our children to be electronically desensitized and often, due
to a lack of boundaries on the internet, we have permitted their
innocence to be ravaged.
What’s happening in a kid’s world today?
our society has made a rapid transformation from a rural culture
to an increasingly urban existence in many regions of the country,
suburban development has quietly consumed the last bits of forested
lands and empty lots.
Further compounding matters has been the establishment of gated
communities with covenant restrictions that limit the range of
children’s travels and outdoor activities. At the same time,
issues have closed school grounds to after hour activities. It’s
difficult to have an adventure when increasingly, there’s no place to
Louv reports in his book, that the “roaming radius” that kids are
permitted to travel from home has shrunk to one ninth of the range it
was 20 years ago. Contributing factors include the rise in single
where females are primarily the head of the household. The growth
the double income family has also been a factor, as it has limited time
for adults to be available for outdoor play. “Because of the changes in
families in an increasingly urban
population”, details a report to Congress on outdoor sports
participation, “There is now at least one generation of youth who have
not been introduced to hunting, shooting or angling sports skills at
home.” We all know, it takes a hunter to make a hunter. The vast
of sportsman got involved in their pursuit because somebody, usually a
family member, once took the time to introduce them to the sport.
In his book, Louv theorizes that our efforts to protect our kids from
the “bogeyman factor” have caused more harm than good. In stressing
safety, we have in fact, widened the divide between
children and the outdoors. Increasingly, our society has embraced
‘fear factor’. We have been conditioned to live in fear. We get
it from the media which has sensationalized child abductions
and has overzealously pursued reports of sex offenders who fail to
register. We are exposed to Amber Alerts, Missing Kids on milk
and a barrage of news stories about the latest pedophile on the loose.
Stories about pedophile priests have even eliminated our most
sacred sanctuary, the church and further reduced childhood innocence.
Movies such as the "Blair Witch Project" amplify a fear of the woods
and the omnipresent threat of terrorism instills an innate fear in the
next generation. What color is the threat matrix today? If
troubles lurk around every corner, who would dare leave the home.
Classroom are likewise filled with bad news. Global warming and
the threat of extreme weather patterns have combined with other
examples of environmental degradation to create a “subtle form of
disassociation” that further widens the nature-child divide. Children
who live without any opportunity for direct contact with
nature are more apt to believe what they read or hear. They learn to
associate nature with fear or apocalypse rather than with joy or
To many, traveling outside the home is no longer entertaining, it’s
downright scary out there. Considering the availability of over 500
television channels, TiVo,
endless DVD’s and videos, it is no wonder that kids find it easier,
more comfortable and more familiar to spend time indoors. Online,
they have access to unlimited instant information, instant
messaging and places like Face Book and My Space where they can even
find instant friends.
With role playing websites and video games like The Sims, kids can
create their own virtual realities which can transport them away from
their current one, to a place that is safer, less stressful, more
entertaining and more easily accessed than climbing a mountain or
paddling a river. Sadly, such behavior is becoming more the norm than
the exception for many kids.
out the door!
I was young, we didn’t have ‘vidiots’ who sat around all day
with an X-Box, computer or big screen TV. We only had two channels
that were black and white and came in rather fuzzy. As I recall,
weren’t a lot of overweight kids either. We were too active!
In today’s society, obesity among America's children and teens is
at an epidemic level, according to the National Center for Health
Statistics. Among children and teens ages 6 to 19, more than 9
million, or 16 percent, are overweight. This is triple the
reported in 1980.
Any Adirondack youngster who does not have the skills and knowledge
to enjoy the out of doors has a great handicap. If they cannot
the local environment to enjoy a positive recreational experience, they
are being deprived of a life full of fantastic opportunities. Why
you think tourists flock to the park? It’s not to play video
Published with permission of the author, Joe Hackett.