Greetings from the MRCA Greetings Friends,
OK, put on your thinking cap as I start off with a personal question… What are some of the fondest nature memories of your childhood? Was it running through an open field with the wind blowing on your face? Making a whistle out of a long blade of grass? Was it sitting on a blanket having a picnic lunch with family, friends and occasionally ants? Was it climbing a tree in your backyard? Possibly catching fireflies on a warm summer evening? (A one time experience, but it remains in my mind.) How about looking up at the stars at night searching for “falling stars” and making wishes or sitting by a campfire and roasting marshmallows? If you are like me, these are all experiences that can stay with you forever, and hopefully I’ve triggered some of your special childhood memories of being outdoors. Yet for the past many years as you may know, there is an alarming trend of children spending less and less time in the outdoors and spending more and more time cooped up inside and in front of televisions and computers playing games or watching movies that leave less for the imagination.
Recent studies show that children are spending about half as much time outdoors as they did just 20 years agoi only 6% of children are playing outside on their own.ii
benefits of playing outside that directly impact their mental, physical and emotional health.iii and
This results in children missing out on the many positive Spending time in
nature is not only important for a healthy childhood, but it also fosters a lifelong connection to the outdoors.iv Luckily, there is a ray of hope as much work is being done to reverse this disheartening and less than healthy trend.
Nationwide, there are a growing number of researchers conducting studies to measure the effects of what has been described as the “nature-deficit disorder”.v
Also, groups like the Children & Nature Network and the No Child
Left Inside Coalition have created grassroots campaigns to educate parents, teachers and communities on how to reconnect children to the outdoors.
Actually a lot has been occurring on the state level to address this negative trend. In 2003, the California Board of Education passed the Education and Environment Initiative (EEI), authored by State Senator and park advocate Fran Pavley. This piece of legislation incorporates environmental education into the state’s required curriculum, helping to bring nature and the environment into the classroom. Then in 2004, the state adopted the Children’s Outdoor Bill of Rights, the first of its kind in the nation. This Bill of Rights lists basic outdoor experiences that every Californian child should have, including sleeping under the stars, following a trail, or planting a seed.
We at the MRCA also hold this issue close to our hearts and a focus of our many programs, as a lot of the staff entered into this line of work because of their own childhood experiences outdoors in nature. MRCA’s open space and urban parks are perfect locations to get this much needed time outdoors for both children and adults. Our education programs, including the school day programs at Franklin Canyon and our Outdoor Education camps at Temescal Gateway Park and King Gillette Ranch provide memorable nature experiences for local students. And by incorporating both the EEI curriculum and the Children’s Outdoor Bills of Rights into our education programs, we introduce and help broaden student understanding of the natural environment around them.
In this edition of the Symbiosis, we are doing things a little different in that many of the published articles were written by individuals who experience our programs first-hand. Teachers, principals, students and staff, who have actually participated in our education programs tell their stories! They talk about what they did and describe the impact of these programs on students. Through their personal stories, we hope to show how this perfect pairing of parks, open space and programs creates the ideal environment for children to spend time outdoors and to develop the essential connection with nature.
May your children, your grandchildren and even yourself, have opportunities and neat experiences in the outdoors that will provide wonderful memories to look back on.
Sincerely, George Lange, Chair of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority
i Juster et al, 2004, Burdette & Whitaker, 2005, Kuo & Sullivan, 2001; ii Children & Nature Network, 2008; iii Randy White, 1998; iv Wells and Lekies, 2006; v Richard Louv, 1995, Last Child Left in the Woods
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