Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Green Hour 101

Forget the research that shows that people heal faster after surgery when they spend time in the woods, and forget the articles that highlight the link between hours spent inside and childhood obesity, diabetes, and Attention Deficit Disorder. It's common sense that people, especially kids need to spend time outside. It's equally clear that as parents and children become increasingly scheduled into structured activities and spend more and more time in cars communting to those activities, we have a lot of pressures that keep us from spending time outside.
Beyond the health and psychological benefits, spending time outside builds an understanding of how natural systems and processes work. We have a better knowledge of the relationship between plants and insects, the way water conspires with sunlight and wind to create the local weather, and all of the ways people impact their local environments, if we see these things for ourselves.
Parents have some help with this. Largely in response to Richard Louv's 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, people all over the country have been working to address this problem through an initiative called The Green Hour. Obviously, encouraging our children to spend time outside and educating them about nature is a tall order. The Green Hour organization (and several others: National Wildlife Federation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Take a Child Outside Week) offers some suggestions for how parents and children can experience nature together at their website.
Family walks, free play in a backyard, keeping an outdoor journal, sketchbook, or photoblog are simple ways to get started. You can check out books about bugs or birds from your local library or invest in a magnifying glass so that little ones can investigate lichens and starfish. If you don't know a tiger swallowtail from a mourning cloak, don't worry. You can learn about these things with your kids, and your own interest will encourage them.
There are opportunities for this all over the place. The local playground or the grounds of a public school or library may be bordered with grass and trees. There may be a thicket, a publicly-owned, unimproved no-mans-land, just down the street. Or, you may be fortunate enough to live close to a state or national park or a public beach.
As summer gives way to fall, this is a great time to start getting outside and observing the changes. It also happens to be Take a Child Outside Week (September 24-30) (Who knew?). Climb some trees, write about a preying mantis, watch the red-tailed hawks. Ask questions. Learn.
More to come.

Image sources: E.R. Dunhill


Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

A few thoughts: Too many parents are clueless about what lies beyond their fence, neighborhood or normal path to work or shop. It will be difficult to convince them to teach their kids about something of which they know little or nothing.

Both of my kids have been exposed to "undomesticated" places since babies. They have collections of rocks and shells and bones and myriad other things found while exploring.

We are fortunate to live in a rural setting. I often have Bobwhite Quail in or near my yard. The rabbits and hares are plentiful, meadowlarks sit on my fence and serenade the morning, red tail hawks make lazy circles and the occasional kestrel makes lunch of the field mice. I'm happy that most of you readers live in the city. That leaves fewer out here in my neck of the prairie. But I guess that thought isn't truly in the spirit of the post is it?

E. R. Dunhill said...

Thank you for your thoughts on this. I know what you mean about the value of spending time on a farm. Farms are great places to see where people interact with, influence, and rely upon the natural environment.
I agree with your concern. There is some degree of the blind leading the blind when it comes to teaching kids about nature. But, this shouldn't deter parents from doing it. People are never too old to learn, something my 96-year-old grandmother reminds me of from time to time. Parents can learn about the world right alongside their kids. Kids are encouraged to learn when they see their parents learning.
Also, children have boundless curiosity and ingenuity. Central to the Green Hour is that some of the time kids spend outside is unstructured. Children are inclined to explore their world, so to some extent parents need to create opportunities for their kids to experience it, and get out of their way.
In this post, I've pictured my son exploring some lichens with the minimum of interefence I can allow a 6-month-old. Even if I didn't know that these are Flavoparmelia caperata and Punctelia rudecta, it wouldn't matter. He's learning things for himself that I couldn't teach him, anyway.

Pat Jenkins said...

it looks like the little one is doing good!! i have the perfect outdoor event for the erd clan... saturday afternoons in college park tailgating, no?