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Bill would combat 'nature deficit disorder' in school children
Scripps Howard News Service


March 17, 2009

Imagine disappearing green spaces, empty playgrounds and children genetically capable of outsmarting the natural world.

Hundreds of organizations and lawmakers across the country want to reverse what they see as a trend towards the virtual world becoming more popular for children than the natural one.

In the coming weeks, the "No Child Left Inside Act," which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last year, will be reintroduced in the House and Senate. Last year, Congress ran out of time to finish work on the measure.

The bill, if passed by Congress and signed by the president, would introduce environmental education as a subject in grades K-12. The act would also require school systems to build environmental literacy, strengthen teacher training and provide federal grants to help schools pay for outdoor education, according U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., lead sponsor of the House bill. This year, the Senate sponsor of the bill is Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I.

Sarbanes said the backers of the bill are working towards getting environmental education into schools so that kids can learn in nature, not just learn about nature.

"Basically, in a civics class, teachers can take their students to explore a historic trail or in a history class, teachers can take them to a national park," Sarbanes said.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, children are disconnecting with the natural world and are spending more than six hours a day in front of computer screens, video games and televisions rather than outside. Spending time outside is important for childrens' physical and emotional health, the study said.

"The amount of time that children now spend outdoors has declined 50 percent in the past 20 years," said Patrick Fitzgerald, senior legislative representative for the National Wildlife Federation.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald added, "childhood obesity has more than doubled and adolescent obesity has tripled."

The proposed bill would help in the fight against obesity and "nature-deficit disorder," which results from the absence of nature from childhood experiences, which plays a role in a child's poor physical and mental health, according to Richard Louv author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder."

Researchers have found that children who spend more time outdoors are likely to experience lower rates of diabetes, and better vision. And the greener a child's everyday environment, the more manageable their symptoms of attention-deficit disorder.

Some parents say they are fearful of letting their children play outdoors.

"Parents believe in an epidemic of abductions by strangers, despite evidence that number has remained roughly the same for two decades," according to researchers from the Children and Nature Network, a non- profit organization based out of Santa Fe, New Mexico, dedicated to children's health and well-being.

They say technology and parents could be the reason for children not spending enough time outdoors.

Louv, agrees that many parents suffer from the "boogeyman syndrome," where parents scare their children by saying that the boogeyman is in the woods, because they are afraid that something will happen to them.

The No Child Left Inside Coalition's more than 700 members include educational institutions, business groups, sportsmen and healthcare organizations.

"We have had an overwhelming display of support for the 'No Child Left Inside Act'," Fitzgerald added. "I have yet not come across anyone that thinks connecting kids with nature is a bad idea."

He said he hopes the White House will support the bill.

"The Obama administration has also been a strong supporter of environmental education," Fitzgerald said.


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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