Category Archives: parenting

Kids: Get outside, get active, join The Order of the Trees

It’s late summer. The Vermont hills are a deep, verdant green. The ponds and lakes are warm enough for long swims. The bugs are mostly gone, and the trails are good for hiking. It’s a magical, fleeting time in the Northeast.

But I’ve just read something I can’t shake. It’s something many parents and teachers have long suspected. How cellphones in the hands of kids ages 14 and younger can be harmful in many ways– kids are staying inside more, interacting less in person, losing skills, deep connections, and childhood and adolescent experiences. According to this article in the Atlantic, and on NPR, kids who spend lots of time on their phones have increased anxiety, depression, and rates of obesity.

It’s pretty disturbing.

Lest you think, gah! That is only one article, The National Wildlife Organization gives us a reality check:

  • Children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago. (Juster et al 2004); (Burdette & Whitaker 2005); (Kuo & Sullivan 2001)
  • Today, kids 8-18 years old devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment media in a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). (Kaiser Family Foundation)
  • In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own. (Children & Nature Network, 2008)
  • Children who play outside are more physically active, more creative in their play, less aggressive and show better concentration. (Burdette and Whitaker, 2005; Ginsburg et al., 2007)
  • Sixty minutes of daily unstructured free play is essential to children’s physical and mental health. (American Academy of Pediatrics, 2008)
  • The most direct route to caring for the environment as an adult is participating in “wild nature activities” before the age of 11. (Wells and Lekies, 2006)”

I’m also acutely aware of the power of technology to engage kids, motivate them, and provide a vehicle for creativity and sharing. This has me thinking about The Order of the Trees, the middle grade novel I wrote  and was published by Green Writers Press in 2015. In this eco-adventure, sixth grade Cedar looks like her namesake, and discovers, along with her friend Phillip, a deep and powerful connection to the old growth forest by her home in Vermont. They visit the forest and start a club called The Order of the Trees. Soon they learn that Cedar’s health is threatened and they can’t figure out why– and they must, before it is too late.

Readers have told me that the book motivates kids to explore outside, and to take action to protect local habitats. It can be a stream, river, local park or open space. Whatever it is, get out in it, explore it, write about it, draw it and help your kids do the same. Give your kids lots of unstructured time to play outside, to build things like forts and imaginary worlds. And try to find ways to protect open spaces in your community.  Read in the woods! Preferably, like Cedar, in a tree.

I’m inspired by this article, and the work of The Children and Nature Network, to encourage kids to read, be outside, and to take action in their communities.

In this back to school month, we will be featuring forests, kids in nature, and kids taking action. I’ll tag photos  with #orderofthetrees on Instagram and Twitter. At the end of August, we will give away a few copies of the book to start the school year off right, with reading and nature.

Please join me in helping kids see the value in nature, the value of using their voices, and taking back childhood from screens. Share your own ideas, photos, and thoughts in the comments, on Facebook, Instagram or on Twitter– then set the phone down and enjoy summer’s finest before it is gone! 🙂

 

 

Support PE in Schools (good for health and learning)

This post reflects a compensated editorial partnership with Voices for Healthy Kids, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Imagine you are 11. Your body is being possessed. One minute, you are a kid, wanting your
stuffed animal at bedtime. The next minute, you are listening to the news and worrying about Russians taking over our elections. Your body, it’s antsy. It is changing fast. Your life is full of activities, confusing social dynamics, and people telling you what to do, and when.

Then you get to PE.

PE, for many kids, is the release valve. It is where they can move their bodies and shake off the math lesson, the cruel joke, or the latest test. PE can also be where they gain confidence, learn how to take care of their bodies, and where they learn how to play with other kids.

image from http://wenatchee.innersync.com/col/

As a teacher, I saw how different students acted on days with and without a PE class. Aside from the occasional post PE argument about who won, students came back to class with bodies and minds ready to settle back into learning.  The days with no PE, or the worst, indoor recess?

No so much.

A brain needs movement breaks. With a packed curriculum, standardized testing,  and increasing pressures, this can be hard for the teacher to provide. That is why recess and PE classes are so critical.

Research shows kids need 60 minutes of physical activity per day and PE programs help our kids get to this minimum for their health and wellbeing. PE addresses the needs of the whole child, positively impacting their physical, mental, and emotional health.

Here’s the problem: Only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools, and 2% of high schools provide daily PE or its equivalent for the entire school year. How does that impact student learning, wellbeing, and their overall health?  According to a report by University of Texas School of Public Health, kids need PE to be treated like a core subject like math or literacy: Continue reading

On Camping with family: the gift of no mirrors

Conceptual image of a woman's face in rippled water

First posted at Parent.Co

I stumble into a hotel, laden with my bags, my kids’ stuffed animals, eager to go to sleep.

After driving cross country, camping for several weeks, then starting back across the country, I’m excited for clean sheets, a flush toilet, and a fluffy pillow.  Simple, lovely things we take for granted. I’m ready to dive in the cozy heap and call it a night.

First I walk into the bright, sterile bathroom. A wide mirror stretches across the wall. It’s huge. I look up, and think, “Oh, that is what I look like?” and immediately think next, “Damn, I need some sleep, a haircut, etc. etc.” quickly followed by, “I’m looking old.”

But wait. You see, I hadn’t thought any of that a minute ago. In fact, I hadn’t looked in a mirror for weeks. The only time I did was when I’d tilt the rear view mirror my direction and take out my contacts before crawling into the tent. My thoughts were filled with camping dinners, day time hikes, my daughters, the magnificent wildlife and scenery, and what I was reading, not anything related to my appearance.

Like most campers, I wore only what made me warm and comfortable. Tevas with wool socks. My hooded sweatshirt with the hood up. I had no care about any of it – only that I wanted to stay warm and dry (which is no easy task in Yellowstone’s weather-finicky Lamar valley). I didn’t change clothes for days, except at night into my “non bear-y” clothes so the grizzlies didn’t come visit our tent. We took a handful of showers over the course of 3 weeks. I didn’t really miss them. Continue reading