It was a telling commentary on the times four years ago when Liz Baird came up with the idea for Take A Child Outside Week. The simple notion that you needed to dedicate a week to encouraging kids to go outside and play would have been preposterous just a decade earlier. Yet with the proliferation of video games and parents increasingly fearful of threats real and perceived, kids were staying inside — and being kept inside — in record numbers. The dilemma was chronicled by author and advocate Richard Louv in his 2005 bestseller, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” an account of how our kids had gone from being weaned in the wild to garrisoned in the great room in less than a generation.
Perhaps because of the incredulity of the fact kids now had to be pushed outside to play, Baird, director of school programs for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, initially had a tough time pitching Take A Child Outside Week. That has since changed. Helped in part to the awareness created by Louv, that has since changed.
“I recently compared it to a ball rolling down hill,” says Baird. “We just gave it a push and it continues to spin faster and faster. I now have people seeking me out to become a partner.”
To date, Baird says TACO has been embraced by more than 400 partners — various agencies with a stake in kids, the outdoors or both — in all 50 states and four foreign countries. In North Carolina alone, Baird says there are “hundreds of events” planned for Take A Child Outside Week, which begins today.
Baird is particularly pleased with the breadth of TACO programs. There are the bread-and-butter educational programs designed to get kids outside, your Hopper Herdings, your Carnivorous Plant Hikes. But there are also programs with a more interdisciplinary bent.
In Chatham County, for instance, high school art students will work with Museum of Sciences exhibit project coordinator Jane Eckenrode to “get out and draw the outside world.”
“It’s a way of helping students make better observations,” says Baird. “A way of better understanding the natural world.”
And there are programs that get at the gut of why kids really want to go outside. In Virginia, says Baird, they hold an “Earn Your Bath Day.”
“They go out and create a big mud pie,” says Baird.
“When we first launched this it was very unique, there were not many organizations pushing people to go outside,” says Baird. “In the past four years there’s been increased awareness of the benefits of being outside.”
The latest case in point comes from a National Wildlife Federation survey this past spring of 1,900 educators. Among other things, it found:
- 78 percent said kids who spend regular time in unstructured outdoor play are better able to concentrate and perform better in the classroom,
- 75 percent said students who spend regular time outdoors tend to be more creative and are better at solving problems in the classroom.
In the back-to-nature movement of the 1970s people were encouraged to get outdoors on the assumption that they would be more compelled to protect and preserve what they were intimately familiar with. Baird says that motivation remains, but with our kids becoming increasingly sedentary and obese, the impetus to take it outside is even greater.
“We don’t just get kids outside to appreciate nature so they’ll want to save it, we need to get them outside because it’s healthy.”
Baird says hundreds of Take A Child Outside Week events are planned across the state. Here are three places to find them:
- TakeAChildOutside.org The official Website for Take A Child Outside Week includes a map of events registered through TACO that are scheduled nationwide. However, because not all events are officially registered, you should also check:
- North Carolina Office of Environmental Educators calendar for today through Thursday. TACO-specific events are marked.
- North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation has various events planned at its parks and recreation areas. Search their calendar for events.
Are you a parent who frets over letting your kids explore the great outdoors? Richard Louv offers advice in his recent article, “Hummingbird Parents: Seven Actions Parents Can Take To Reduce Risk and Still Get Their Kids Outside. Read it here.
What’s the No Child Left Inside Act? Read about it here.