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Nurture the natural path to healthier, happier and smarter lives

As I See It

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Media contact: Chairman Rodney Barreto

School is out, and parents everywhere are looking for fun things to do with their children. I suspect most would be delighted if those summer activities also encouraged healthier, happier and even smarter lifestyles. When Richard Louv published his book "Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" in 2005, it helped spur a global movement led by the Children and Nature Network to accomplish just that.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) works to provide opportunities all across the state to be sure that Florida is in the forefront of the move to reconnect children with nature.  FWC provides summer camps and other nature-based activities at facilities such as the Beau Turner Youth Conservation Center, Joe Budd Aquatic Education Center, the Ocala Outdoor Adventure Camp, Tenoroc Fish Management Area, Chinsegut Nature Center and the Everglades Youth Conservation Camp.

The FWC is working to tie these programs together and make major capital improvements on these facilities through the Florida Youth Conservation Center Network (MyFWC.com/Youth). Recently, we hosted a "Creating the Next Generation that Cares" day at the Capitol to share with legislators, school groups and visitors information on the variety of ways the FWC strives to ensure Floridians care about and enjoy our natural resources - in many of the same ways that our forebears did - and thus preserve our sporting heritage. Fishing- and hunting-license dollars support these efforts, as do voluntary donations made to youth fishing and hunting programs, when anglers and hunters choose to contribute while buying their license (MyFWC.com/License).

In the Sunshine State, the Get Outdoors Florida! Coalition (www.GetOutdoorsFlorida.org) chaired by an FWC employee and actively supported by the agency, is not only part of the Children and Nature Network but also intricately tied to the evolving Florida Youth Conservation Center Network.  Get Outdoors Florida! works with local, state and federal agencies, as well as universities, nonprofit organizations and businesses to engage communities in active nature-based recreation.

This effort includes not only the state's land and water management agencies, but also the departments of Education and Health to ensure we take a holistic approach with our education and outreach efforts to get more Floridians actively involved in traditional outdoor recreation, from fishing and hunting to paddling and bird watching. The research, compiled by Louv and since expanded on by the Children and Nature Network, compellingly demonstrates that individuals and families engaged in active nature-based recreation tend to be healthier, happier and smarter.

Healthier: The Let's Move Outside website suggests, "Kids need at least 60 minutes of active and vigorous play each day, and one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to meet this goal is by playing outside."  Having fun doesn't seem like a steep price to pay to be healthier and reduce weight problems, associated diseases like diabetes and heart problems, and attention deficit disorder.

Happier: I won't bother going to the research for this one, just watch their smiles as children catch their first fish, chase a lightening bug or climb a tree.

Smarter: Dr. Stephen Kellert, Yale University, found that "play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an especially important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual development." Andrea Faber Taylor's research at the University of Illinois suggests the brain uses two forms of attention: "directed" attention for concentrated thinking; and "involuntary" attention, when we're distracted by things like running water, a beautiful sunset or watching a turtle slip into the water from a fallen log. Directed attention is limited, so hours in front of a computer or playing video games leave us fatigued. Whereas time spent in natural settings activates involuntary attention, giving the brain time to rest and resulting in enhanced performance at school and work.

June is full of opportunities and events to experience with your family. In fact, President Barack Obama, as did his predecessor, designated it Great Outdoors Month. The president went further and launched America's Great Outdoors Initiative (www.DOI.gov/AmericasGreatOutdoors), and First Lady Michelle Obama joined in with the launch of Let's Move Outside (www.LetsMove.gov/Outside), an effort to combat obesity.

Moreover, National Get Outdoors Day is Saturday, June 12 (www.NationalGetOutdoorsDay.org), which coincides with National Marina Day, while the whole week of June 5 -13 is National Fishing and Boating Week (www.TakeMeFishing.org). The Great American Backyard Campout is June 26 (www.BeOutThere.org).

So give yourself and the family an excuse to get out and enjoy nature this summer.

As David Sobel said, "Give children a chance to love the earth before we ask them to save it."



FWC Facts:
Seagrasses stabilize the sea bottom with their roots and rhizomes (underground stems) in much the same way that land grasses retard soil erosion.

Learn More at AskFWC