Leave No Child Inside Initiative
American children have changed how they spend their playtime and, as a result, their relationship to nature. They’ve gone from ruling the countryside to ruling the remote control in just 30 years. Today’s digital era, compounded by loss of green space to development, has left kids plugged in and tuned out to nature, opting instead for time online or with a cell phone.
In his groundbreaking 2006 book journalist Richard Louv cited kids’ lack of direct experience with nature as largely to blame for alarming increases in obesity, attention deficit disorder and poor social skills. As an example, since the 1960s, when the amount of time children spent outdoors began to decrease, the percentage of obese youths has tripled. Louv’s book has sparked a national movement to inspire parents to lead their children back into nature.
The Nature Center Involvement The NatureCenter is taking action to reverse the dangerous trends created by children’s disconnection from nature. TheNatureCenter joins Chicago Wilderness to launch a regional initiative called Leave No Child Inside, with the goal of improving children’s health and fostering generations of children who care enough for nature to protect it.
With Leave No Child Inside, The Nature Center joins hundreds of other organizations that are members of the Chicago Wilderness consortium, an alliance of more than 200 public and private organizations working together to protect the Chicago region’s natural spaces, help conserve the diversity of plants and animals, and enrich local residents’ quality of life. Throughout the Leave No Child Inside initiative, Chicago Wilderness will offer workshops for educators, opportunities for partnerships among consortium and community organizations, and efforts at the state and federal levels to support outdoor programs for children.
The Nature Center & Chicago Wilderness The NatureCenter and other Chicago Wilderness members are experts in connecting children and adults to nature. With Leave No Child Inside, our goal is to promote children’s health through outdoor play and exploration, and foster caring for nature in today’s children and future generations.
One of the greatest gifts you can give children is your love of nature. Children need regular time outdoors, so visit TheNatureCenter with your kids to experience something new every time the weather changes. We offer wide open, natural places where your children can run, have fun, and play safely. Let your kids take the lead - with their natural curiosity, they will quickly find something to explore.
Tips for Parents
Enjoying the outdoors with your children is a fun, healthy way to spend quality time with your family. Experts also believe giving children unstructured playtime outside fosters creativity and healthy childhood development, while helping prevent childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder and emotional stress. Don’t know what to do? It’s easy - here are some tips to get you started:
Give your children unstructured time outside. Children benefit from casual playtime in nature, when they can interact freely with the natural world. These experiences build their curiosity and confidence.
Spend time with your children outside. Research shows that videos, films, photos and other media cannot take the place of direct experience. Get your child out into the parks and preserves or to the shore of Lake Michigan. Take a class, or go on a guided nature walk at your local park district.
Enjoy nature in your neighborhood. Planting a garden, watching birds and climbing trees with your kids can launch a life-long love of plants, insects and animals.
Let your children take the lead. Instincts can be their most valuable guide when discovering nature. With their natural curiosity, your kids will quickly find something for the family to explore.
Hold a scavenger hunt in the backyard. Ask kids to check off items on a list that could include flowers, bird tracks, squirrels, something that makes noise, colors in nature, worms and insects in the soil.
Play games to encourage looking, such as “I see something you don’t see and its color is….” Use yes-and-no questions to give your kids clues.
Direct your children’s attention -- and join in their fun. Research shows that children learn more when someone participates in an experience with them. It’s as simple as pointing out trees or touching a leaf with your child; encouraging her or him listen for birds, smell the flowers, or feel the wind or soil.
Don’t be afraid of not knowing the answers. You don’t have to know everything about plants and animals to help your children enjoy them; half the fun is asking questions and building a sense of curiosity and wonder.
Go online to the Kids Outside website to learn more about where, when and what to do to enjoy nature with your family. Through this website, you can sign up to receive monthly email bulletins year-around that offer tips on where to go and what to do with kids. Also, subscribe to Chicago Wilderness Magazine.