Thursday, December 7, 2006

Green Hour: Kids Need Nature For Physical and Mental Health

A 2005 report by Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit group that focuses on U.S. health care issues, revealed that kids' average weekly electronic-media exposure is 44 hours, more time than most parents spend on full-time jobs.

Sixty-six percent of young people have TV's in their rooms. Half of all youths live in homes where TV's are on most or all of the time, whether anyone is watching or not.

Last year, the University of California-Los Angeles Center on Everyday Lives of Families reported that during thew week, parents and children are in constant motion - racing between school, games, shopping, work - and that American kids spend virtually no time in their own yards.

Psychologists have found that time spent with nature protects the emotional well-being of children and can reduce symptoms of ADD. One study found that sixth graders enrolled in environment-based programs improved math and science scores 27%.

A New Zealand study found that kids who watched the least TV, especially between 5 and 11 years old, had the highest probability of graduating from college by the age of 26, regardless of IQ or socioeconomic status.

Environmental psychologists report that exposure to nature around the home, or simply a room with a view of a natural landscape, helps protect the psychological well-being of children. Children with disabilities gain enhanced body image and positive behavior changes through direct interaction with nature.

At the University of Illinois, researchers have discovered that children as young as 5 showed a significant reduction in the symptoms of ADD when they engaged with nature.

National Wildlife Federation recommends that children participate in at least one "green hour" every day - an hour spent outdoors in unstructured play. Here are some ideas:

Go on a nature walk

Put up a bird feeder to watch from a often used room

Set up a tent in the backyard and sleep out

Go on a bug hunt -- but leave the bugs where they live

Create a Backyard Wildlife Habitat yard.

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