Getting Outside Feb08

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Getting Outside

We Austinites just aren’t cut out for winter.

Despite the fact that many among us are transplants from colder climes, we have all gotten spoiled. Give us two weeks of chilly weather and we are begging for the blistering heat that is summer in Texas.

It took me a week indoors over the holidays to be reminded that we take the time we spend outdoors for granted. Particularly since having a child, I have grown accustomed to playing at one of the many parks nearby, exploring our cul de sac, impromptu picnics and weekends spent enjoying Austin’s natural beauty.

Although my son is not yet school-aged (meaning, he doesn’t have homework or afterschool activities), I appreciate that outside we are not constrained by the limits of whatever toy is in his hand. In the front yard, he isn’t frustrated by what it can or cannot do, and I am not having to act as a referee when he suddenly must play with the toy that his friend picks up (which of course, he hasn’t played with in months). We are free to pretend we are anyone, and we must be resourceful in creating our world to suit our story d’jour. There is literally a whole world outside of our doorstep.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s much easier to stay indoors when you are tired, have neverending piles of laundry, dinner to cook, or that last work email to send. And although I sometimes have to take a deep breath and walk away from my to do list, I find I rarely regret the time I spend with my child outside. It renews both of us.

Unfortunately, as we know, children are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. Brace yourself for this —  according research funded by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a child is six times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike. Ugh. Another study found that children ages 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day, more than 50 hours a week, plugged in, be it via a computer, TV, phone, video game or another electronic device. Can you believe it?

The good news is that a coalition of leaders in education, public health, business, recreation, conservation and agriculture have come together to form the Texas Partnership for Children in Nature and have developed a plan to connect kids to the outdoors and to teach them about the state’s natural resources. In December, I was lucky to have the chance to attend a conference at UT which featured representatives from various groups. Speaker after speaker told us about steps they are taking to bring nature to children and to implement the strategic plan developed by the coalition.

I left the conference feeling energized. People across the state are working hard to reconnect kids with the outdoors and reverse these depressing statistics. I suddenly pledged to do more to get us outdoors every day and to create opportunities for my child to have unstructured play. I realized that the lessons, the teams and the activities can wait. I made a promise to myself to continue to connect with my son in a way we seem to only do outside. In a world filled with endless to dos, I know it’s time well spent.

What is your favorite outdoor activity with your family? Is there a place in Austin that you and your family love to spend time outside? How do you “unplug” your older children from their devices and get them outside? What makes it hard for you to get outside?

Written by: Nicole Basham