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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Kids Need the Ground Beneath Their Feet

Have you ever looked at life like this? Kids need the ground -- the grass, the sand, the sidewalk, the fields, and all other direct contact with Mother Earth. They grow and learn so much with repeated contact of "feet meeting the ground" activities that nothing can suffice for just their getting outside and getting their phalanges moving. In doing so, they become a living part of the intricacy of nature.

I went to a park the other day with my son, daughter-in-law, wife, and two of our grandkids, and while there, this thought hit me right between the eyes. Everywhere I looked I saw kids in activities that presented them with varying levels of freedom and liberty in a beautiful area full of room for exploration and curious interplay.

In the park, I say so many kids happily playing and receiving all the benefits of the exercise, the environment, the climate, and the social interaction. The park was simply a glorious place full of everything good that makes children appreciate the outdoors.

Sand boxes, swings, jungle gyms, elaborate play sets, bike paths, walking paths, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, soccer fields, trees -- the park was a paradise beckoning children away from computers, online games, and a sedentary life style. And, it provided them real entertainment, not fantasy and second-hand experiences. Kids need this so badly. They gain empowerment as they utilize simple problem-solving skills in their play.

About three out of four children ages 5 to 10 get less than one hour of physical activity, according to a new survey.The survey of more than 1,600 U.S. parents was conducted by the YMCA of the USA, also known as Y-USA.It showed that that 74% of children between the ages of 5 and 10 do not get enough exercise on a daily basis, based on the 60 minutes of daily physical activity recommended in the government’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. 

Only 15% of the parents in the survey indicated that overall physical health is the top concern for their children, even though rates of childhood obesity have been climbing. CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reported approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese.

Becoming "Grounded"

Obviously, contact with the ground is essential for a growing child not only in a physical sense but also in a mental sense. As I watched the children play in the park, I could almost see the gears in their heads turning as they decided what to do and how to do it. I thought of my own childhood and how important the outdoors had been to me. When I was a youngster, I didn't have an elaborate playground like this park, but I had a backyard, nearby woods, and nearby bodies of water -- streams, lakes, the river -- that I gradually gained as access points for my and my parents planned outdoor adventures.

Each new day presents children with the ground outside their windows, and the ground, whatever its composition, puts them in direct contact with their natural surroundings. The wealth of exercise and knowledge nature provides allows young people to become "grounded" themselves. 

Given enough time and opportunity to contact the outdoors, kids develop a deep appreciation for their surroundings. And, given proper instruction and graduated safe, limits of exploration, young people find unbounded satisfaction in the simplicity of putting themselves in a wondrous, natural environment. They develop a lifelong appreciation of the ground simply by plodding upon its surface.

I sincerely believe structured outdoor group activities are good but not sufficient for the maturation of a human being. Play involves more that scheduled ballgames and practices. Too few kids these days "hang" outdoors and enjoy the natural setting as their constant companion. We, adults, must provide safe access to natural settings and provide a wide array of opportunities for our children and grandchildren to benefit from the outdoors. Independent play is missing, and I find this disheartening. 

We have rich resources in Scioto County that allow for so many wonderful "ground" experiences. Why not push the development of our natural resources and develop new means of human contact with nature as the greatest "gold" in our hills? We could be so much more proud of our natural environment and much more willing to share our land with others. 

This change cannot be accomplished through short-sighted visions of instantaneous mass transformation; however, it can be done if enough families just begin getting their kids feet out of the house and on the ground. These feet will lead to miracles. It seems too simple to work? Sometimes the most simple actions reap the most benefits -- even for old codgers like me.

"Take a course in good water and air: and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone: no harm will befall you." 

 --John Muir

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