Date: Sunday, August 19, 2007 Edition: FINAL Source: Kumari Kelly, Sentinel Staff Writer ON THE INSIDE LOOKING OUT Kids are staying indoors more and more, eschewing nature Two years ago, child advocates sounded the alarm: Children have lost touch with nature, resulting in lower test scores, hyperactivity, depression and other problems. A national author coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" to explain the phenomenon. Experts reported that children were being robbed of climbing trees and skipping rocks by their parents' fear, their own jammed schedules, and addiction to computer and video games. Progress on the issue still seems measured more in potential than reality. Nature advocates are pleading with Congress not to cut funding for agencies with strong nature programs. Recent congressional hearings, dubbed "No Child Left Inside," focused on the importance of nature play for children. And a look by the Orlando Sentinel at four diaries of Central Florida children to determine how they spent their "average" summer day shows many hours are spent indoors. Kaelyn Brown, 7, of Orlando said she likes to climb trees and drag her little dolls outside to play. On a typical day, however, Kaelyn spent two hours outdoors, according to the Sentinel survey. Her mother, Suzy Brown, makes little apology for being cautious about letting her daughter play outside. Bugs, traffic, the heat and a fear of strangers are all hindrances. "I usually feel better when they are indoors because it's more controlled," she said. Brown isn't alone. Several studies show that parental fear keeps children indoors more today than 30 years ago, even when parks are available. Authorities who have published studies on the child-nature connection include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, The Trust for Public Land, the American Medical Association, and several universities. National- and regional-parks officials have called on Congress to help. Funding for programs that support outdoor recreation is paramount, says Richard Dolesh, head of the National Recreation and Park Association, who recently spoke at the congressional hearing. He jokingly said we need "dog parks for kids," or safe places where children could be turned loose to simply run, play, climb a tree and experience nature with abandon. The problem, he says, has reached "crisis proportions." Child-development experts, pediatricians and outdoor-recreation advocates will meet again this fall in the Midwest for another national symposium on the issue. In addition to fear, parents' sedentary lifestyles limit some children's exposure to nature, experts say. The diaries the Sentinel looked at gave insight into the need for parents to get involved in getting their children outdoors. Some kids spent hours playing video games. If they did go outside, it often was for a recreational pursuit such as swimming, not simply experiencing nature. DeeDee Pizutti, 12, a middle-schooler from Clermont, says she rarely participates in any nature activity such as camping or hiking, but she does enjoy swimming with friends and practicing volleyball for the school team. She recently went fishing with her father at a nearby lake. "There were way too many bugs, so I left really early," she said. What does she do for much of a typical summer day? "Talk online to friends," she said. One teen, though, found a way to wedge it all in by staying up until 3 a.m. for his computer time. Sterling Thompson, 17, of Mount Dora, found time for four hours of video games, a four-hour beach kayaking trip, and two hours to cook dinner. He also plays in an orchestra, participates in organized sports, designs Web sites and hikes in places such as the Grand Canyon. "I don't really make a concerted effort to go outside," he said. He just does what comes naturally. Sometimes that involves going outside; sometimes it does not. While it works for Sterling, if many children take a willy-nilly approach to nature, they might never see a forest, experts say. In a survey by the National Recreation and Park Association, nearly 30 percent of the nation's local parks said they don't have nature programs and 40 percent don't have areas devoted to nature. Even while Florida's state park attendance broke records with 19.5 million visitors last year, some of those parks lack hands-on programs and activities for young children. If more money were pumped into programs, however, 91 percent of the nation's parks without nature programs said they would develop them. In the May hearings, advocates asked Congress to spare some programs important to nature-based child play, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has assisted in funding almost 41,000 local and state park and conservation projects in seven years. Children's advocates such as Richard Louv -- author of Last Child in the Woods, in which the term "nature-deficit disorder" was described -- are still calling for change. Parents and grandparents, though, need not wait on the government to do something, one nature lover says. Lee Wheeler, owner of the 213-acre Horse World Riding Stable in Kissimmee, takes long walks with her young grandson, often stopping for a picnic along the way. She gets her exercise, he learns about nature, and both of them have some together time. "It's not a child's fault their life is the way it is," Wheeler said. "You have to make that time and make that happen. [Outdoor play] doesn't just happen automatically anymore." Illustration: PHOTO: Camryn Brown, 4, takes a peek outside recently. Camryn and her sister Kaelyn, 7, play mostly indoors. Their mom says she prefers the indoors because it is `controlled.' JULIE FLETCHER/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTO: Kaelyn Brown, 7, plays with a `hair dryer' in her Orlando home recently. Kaelyn says she enjoys climbing trees, but in a 24-hour log she kept recently, only 2 hours were spent outdoors. Studies show that parental fear keeps children indoors more today than 30 years ago. Other factors such as video games are also cited. JULIE FLETCHER/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTO: Brianna Phillips, 10, learns to ride a horse recently with her mother at the Horse World Riding Stables in Kissimmee. Congressional `No Child Left Inside' hearings in May focused on how kids benefit from nature. KIRSTINA SANGSAHACHART/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTO: Matthew Young, 6, and his grandfather go fishing several times a week at the Horse World Riding Stables. Advocates have asked Congress to spare programs important to nature-based child play. KIRSTINA SANGSAHACHART/ORLANDO SENTINEL . BOX: TAKING KIDS OUTSIDE Orange County Harry P. Leu Gardens 1920 N. Forest Ave. Orlando 407-246-2620 The botanical gardens have three miles of paved scenic walkways that take you through 50 acres of gardens and a butterfly garden. Tosohatchee State Reserve 3365 Taylor Creek Road Christmas 407-568-5893 Park Rangers offer special tours and programs on a rotating basis, so call for details. Rock Springs Run State Reserve Wekiwa Springs State Park 1800 Wekiwa Circle Apopka 407-884-2008 Rock Springs Run State Reserve offers 17 miles of hiking and horseback-riding trails through a variety of native plant communities. Wekiwa Springs State Park 1800 Wekiwa Circle Apopka 407-884-2008 The park also features canoeing, diving, boating, camping, hiking, picnic areas and fishing. Kelly Park 400 E. Kelly Park Road Apopka 407-889-4179 The major attraction is Rock Springs, which bubbles up from a rock outcropping and flows into a meandering stream where families go tubing. University of Central Florida Arboretum 4000 Central Florida Blvd. Orlando 407-823-2978 The 80-acre UCF Arboretum allows visitors to walk a self-guided tour. Seminole County Big Tree Park 761 General Hutchinson Parkway Longwood 407-788-0405 Big Tree Park is home to one of Florida's most famous natural landmarks. "The Senator" is a 3,500-year-old baldcypress tree, thought to be the oldest living tree in the United States. Lake County Florida Scrub Jay Trail 11490 Montevista Road Clermont 352-429-5566 The trail offers views of the endangered scrub-jay in their prime habitat. Children are welcomed here to participate in plantings and educational tours. Lake Louisa State Park 7305 U.S. Highway 27 Clermont 352-394-3969 Set on the shores of Lake Louisa, the 4,000-acre state park offers fishing in four lakes, as well as designated trails for horseback riding. Trout Lake Nature Center County Road 44, east of State Road 19 Eustis 352-357-7536 The 230-acre reserve has a 1,000-foot-long boardwalk extending into Trout Lake, interpretive trails, a museum-classroom center and an environmental-education center. Volusia County Blue Spring State Park 2100 W. French Ave. Orange City 386-775-3663 This is a refuge for the West Indian manatee, one of Florida's most widely known endangered species, and the clear spring also is well-known as a prime spot for snorkeling and scuba diving. Osceola County Lake Kissimmee State Park 14248 Camp Mack Road Lake Wales 863-696-1112 Located on the water with miles of trails and much wildlife, this park is marked by a 1800s-style "cowboy" camp that retells life of a Florida Cracker. The Nature Conservancy's Disney Wilderness Preserve 2700 Scrub Jay Trail Kissimmee 407-935-0002 This 12,000-acre natural habitat has a 3-mile hiking trail. To read more thefuturesedge.com Journalist and child advocate Richard Louv has written seven books including Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. canopymeg.com Margaret Lowman, also known as "Canopy Meg," a professor at New College of Florida in Sarasota, is the author of It's a Jungle Out There, which tells of her work in tropical-rain-forest exploration, conservation and the challenges of raising two sons. . BOX: DID YOU KNOW? National Park attendance is down more than 20 percent in the past 20 years despite population growth, but the average person spent 327 more hours per year with entertainment media in 2003 than they did in 1987. Sales of children's bikes dropped 21 percent from 2001 to 2004, according to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News. Thirty-eight percent of ecologists, surveyed on why they chose their job, said they were hooked on nature by middle school; 70 percent said their passion for learning came outside the classroom -- often outdoors. Twenty-seven percent of at-risk youth, most of whom had never spent time in nature at all, showed better classroom behavior, problem-solving skills, self-esteem and cooperation after a weeklong nature-based outdoor program in 2005, according to a study by the American Institutes for Research. A control group that did not experience the outdoors did not show such results. Eight-year-olds were more familiar with 10 Pokemon characters than 10 common wildlife species in a British study. Children's unscheduled time has dropped 12 percent from 1981 to 1997 and 4 percent more from 1997 to 2003, leaving less time available to play, but in the same time, computer use doubled, according to a study available at www.popcenter.umd.edu and titled "Changes in Children's Time, 1997-2002/3: An Update, 2006." SOURCE: Children & Nature Network Research and Studies, Vol. I and II . BOX: A CHILD'S LIFE The Orlando Sentinel asked four kids -- with some help from their parents -- to keep tabs on how they spent one 24-hour period playing. Here is what one wrote: Kaelyn Brown, Orlando Age: 7 Parents: Suzi Brown, Orlando guide for babyzone.com and parentzone.com, and Wes Brown Friday 9 a.m.-ish: Wake up, eat breakfast and watch TV 10 a.m.: Color pictures and watch TV 10:30 a.m.: Play with sister (age 4) 11 a.m.: Still playing with Polly Pockets and My Little Ponies 11:30 Get dressed and clean up toys Noon: Eat lunch 12:30 p.m.: Run errands with Mom and sister 2 p.m.: Meet up with friend to swim 3 p.m.: Still swimming 4 p.m.: Playing Barbies inside with friend 4:30 p.m.: Pack up and head home 5 p.m.: Go home and play with sister 5:30 p.m.: Play Leapster, educational computer game 6 p.m.: Eat dinner 6:30 p.m.: Practice kicking soccer ball in backyard 7 p.m.: Play with dogs outside 7:30 p.m.: Go inside and help clean up toys 8 p.m.: Play with sister and Daddy 8:15 p.m.: Take a shower and get ready for bed 8:45 p.m.: Get into bed and read for a little bit 9:30 p.m.: Asleep Total outside playtime: About two hours. -30-
Guidance from an elder brother
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