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! 🙂