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Children in Nature

Most of us have childhood memories of summer evenings at our grandparents’ farm, riding our bikes through the woods at the end of our block, or discovering a “new” species of butterfly along our neighborhood creek. For the most part, our connection to nature and love of God’s creation stems from such explorations and adventures. However, in our increasingly scheduled and urbanized way of life, our children are exposed to fewer and fewer opportunities to experience nature on their terms. Moreover, there are many children in our communities that do not have the opportunity to easily and safely access open spaces and natural areas. 

The current generation of children spends much less time outdoors (and much more time in front of an electronic screen) than in the past. At the same time diseases such as diabetes and obesity are reaching epidemic levels, air pollution from auto travel continues to plague our neighborhoods, and our children’s knowledge of how food grows is decreasing.

In his book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv brings new attention to this issue and coins the term, nature-deficit disorder, which describes how and why children have become increasingly alienated from nature. He cites a growing body of research that has linked the lack of nature to obesity and developmental and mental disorders like attention-deficit disorders and depression. Play in natural environments can have positive benefits for our children, while the lack of a tradition of outdoor play and exploration can result in considerable harm to them as well. The rate of obese children in Texas doubled in the past 20 years and continues to rise. If current trends continue, the annual cost of addressing weight-related health issues will exceed $15.6 billion in 2010 and $39 billion by 2040, according to the Texas Interagency Obesity Council. Getting kids re-connected with nature should be a priority in Texas where over 40 percent of out 4th graders are overweight or obese. Studies have shown how early and continual exposure to nature has emerged as promising way to reverse childhood maladies, and promote a robust intellectual, spiritual, and physical adulthood.

Today:
• Children are 6 times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike.
• Only 1 in 5 children walk or ride a bike to school, yet 71% of adults reported they walked or rode a bike to school.
• In Texas, as we becoming increasingly urban, we are seeing a decline in the percentage of the population hunting, camping, fishing, and spending time outdoors.
• Childhood obesity rate in 1960 was 4%; today, the national average is over 18% (JAMA; CDC).
• Our children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents (Ludwig DS (2007). New England Journal of Medicine, 357(23): 2325-27).
• Fifty percent of youth are not physically active enough for the development of healthy cardiorespiratory systems (Hunter, Bamman, & Hester, 2000; Ross & Gilbert, 1985 USDHHS; Sothern et al., 1999).
• Chronic conditions such as childhood obesity, asthma, and attention-deficit disorder have all increased over the past few decades. (Perrin JM, Bloom SR & Gortmaker SL (2007). JAMA, 297(24): 2755-59.).

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Texas Children in Nature Network

The Texas Children in Nature Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals that have come together to reconnect children and families with nature.

Texas children are increasingly disconnected from nature and play outdoors. We believe there are key and essential benefits to children's health, development and well-being through outdoor play, experiencing and discovering nature first-hand. We are committed to working together to help stop this alarming trend. We will encourage and provide opportunities for children to develop to their full potential by reconnecting children and families with the wonders of playing and learning in nature.

You can become part of the growing Texas Children in Nature community by joining the Texas Children in Nature Network facebook group.

Green Ribbon Schools and Communities

 

Healthy and growing. Holistic. Purposeful. A Green Ribbon School takes a comprehensive approach to help students reach their potential. Green Ribbon Schools promote healthy living for students, parents and staff. Green Ribbon Schools connect to nature. Green Ribbon Schools take steps to create an environmentally-friendly campus, encourage physical activity and cooperative outdoor play, foster healthy habits and use nature as a learning tool. Green Ribbon Schools create their own vision and plan and improve over time. Students are healthier, happier and smarter.

Texas Impact is a supporter of the new Green Ribbon Schools program that recognizes schools of all types for their commitments to environmental stewardship, healthy lifestyles and care for creation.  If your congregation supports  a school, or regular educational activities--Green Ribbon Schools may be a program for you. Or, you may have parternships with nearby public or community schools that would be likely candidates.

Soon, Texas Impact and other partners will work to launch the Green Ribbon Communities program so any organization within your community can be recognized for taking actions to create a healthier and more sustainable world.

Follow this link to find out more about how you can help lead your educational partners along the path to becoming a Green Ribbon School.