Celebrating Earth Day (April 22) and National Wildlife Week (April 19-27) reminds families across America that getting unplugged from technology, and plugging into nature, is a great way to reconnect with themselves, each other, and the environment. And what better way to do this than to have a daily “Green Hour?”
What exactly is Green Hour? It’s a term that means spending time outside with your kids, and spending one entire hour (at least), each day, playing and connecting with the outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids one hour every day devoted to playing outdoors and making “a bit of time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world.”
By doing so, you will be helping to reverse the “nature-child disconnect,” that has occurred with the rapid advancement of technology-type entertainment: computers, video games, TVs and various electronic gadgets in our modern world.
Reconnecting with nature can take place in common outdoor places: a backyard, garden, or park can serve as the perfect green space for “green time”.
“Children need breakfast, and they need sleep, and they really need to be outside for one hour each day; it has amazing benefits,” says National Wildlife Federation’s Senior Director of Education and Integrated Marketing, Carey Stanton. “Playing outside has tremendous benefits physically, and it helps with children’s emotional development. Studies have proven that students who have more outdoor exposure seem to have better critical thinking skills and it can lessen symptoms of attention deficit disorders.”
Developing Green Hour with your children starts with just getting outside! But the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) suggests a few key ideas to keep in mind when beginning Green Hour:
- Focus on Fun – In other words, don’t be so structured that this becomes another duty or chore to cross off the list. Getting outside is a chance to break away from work, schedules and stress so just have some fun together in the outdoors! Play!
- Step outside with an “attitude of wonder.” The NWF suggests “That you begin by exploring with each of your senses. Encourage your child to look closer at a flower or a rock, listen to a bird song, sniff the rich damp earth, touch a fuzzy leaf or a tree’s rough bark.” One good way to do this? Create a scavenger hunt for your kids: start with three things to find; like a flower, a stone, and a twig. Or come up with your own creative list of items like a leaf, berry, shell, acorn, seed, mulch, feather, bud, stem, mud, web or a cone. Next step? Set a timer and then mark, get set, go! When the timer goes off, gather together with all of your children’s finds and discuss the color, the texture, the smell, and the purpose of each of the items. Be sure to take photos of your kids while they’re on their scavenger hunt, and display them proudly. That way they’ll be reminded at home each day of their connection with the outdoors – and your green hour memory is preserved.
- The NWF also suggests active participation on the part of the parent – don’t act squeamish to worms, insects, mud and other outdoor surprises. If you act that way, your child is likely to follow by example. So climb a tree and let go of your fears! Your kids are sure to follow! In addition, the NWF says to, “Know your outdoor facts so you won’t be fearful of dangers outside like insect bites, bee stings, poison ivy, and sunburn.” Be a knowledgeable guide! A great resource is locatedat the NWF’s About Green Hour” section, where there’s a parents guide, that includes a section called “Tame the Dangers.” A brief and informative list of common outdoor dangers are shown, with helpful facts and tips about each one for easy reference. Study for a bit and you’ll be an outdoor expert in no time!
- Be prepared! Get together an “Explorer’s Pack” that’s full of helpful necessities like bug repellent (with natural ingredients), band-aids, water, a camera and glass jars for gathering items, a journal and writing pen for remembering what you find, a magnifying glass, binoculars, sunscreen, wet wipes, and a blanket to sit on when you take a break. Get your kids to help find these items and pack your bag! Then they’ll know what items they need to have on hand for future ventures outdoors.
Some more Green Hour ideas:
- Dig a little! Plant some sunflowers. Get your kids involved in gardening by spreading a couple of packages of sunflower seeds (found at most garden centers) and plant them this month in April. How to get started? Have your child dig several small, shallow holes six inches apart, placing one seed in each hole, then covering them back up with dirt. Water for a few minutes each day during your green hour. Watch them grow! In a matter of weeks you will see seedlings, and by July, you should see sunflowers in full bloom! Make sure they are planted in a bright and sunny spot so they’ll get lots of sunshine for optimum blooming.
- Spread a blanket outside on the grass on a partly cloudy day, lay down, and stare up at the sky. What do you see in the clouds? Faces? Animals? Shapes? Play this game and relax in the outdoors. You’ll find yourself laughing at all of the different images you’ll see. And by sharing your imagination and the outdoors with your child, you are encouraging him or her to be creative and expressive with you and others, along with getting to know and appreciate his or her world.
And just in case you need a bit of statistical inspiration for getting your kids unplugged from technology; here are some disturbing finds revealed by the Children & Nature Network:Children between the ages of six months and six years spend an average of 1.5 hours a day with electronic media, and youth between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media – that’s more than 45 hours a week! (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2005 and 2006)
Obesity in children has increased from about 4 percent in the 1960s to close to 20 percent in 2004. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2006)
But the benefits of getting children to play and explore outdoors are proven to be truly phenomenal. Children have been found to be smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier when they have regular opportunities for free and unstructured play in the outdoors, according to research cited by the Children & Nature Network. Schoolyards with green areas, researchers found, also encourage more creative and cooperative forms of play.
So getting outside and starting a “Green Hour” each day will prove to be beneficial for all involved – it’s good to be green – a few moments outside will spark creativity, reduce obesity, increase intelligence and influence a better attitude in your child.
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