In today’s tech-rich world, children are spending less time outdoors, and recent studies go as far as to give this reality a label: nature-deficit disorder.
According to the Child Mind Institute, the typical American child spends about seven hours a day in front of a screen and only four to seven minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors.
Here are ways to break the cycle and connect with nature.
Lend a hand
Spend quality time outdoors while leading by example. Through volunteering, children are able to “get up close and personal with nature. They get to learn the value of hard work. They see the results of what they’ve done, and they get that sense of accomplishment from it,” says Michelle Foss, manager of stewardship and research at Fontenelle Forest.
Foss oversees Fontenelle Forest’s volunteer work days, when community members gather to get their hands dirty. The work days typically are the third Saturday of every month, either at Fontenelle’s Nature Center or at Neale Woods, beginning at 8:30 or 9 a.m. Monthly work days are family-friendly, and can be tailored by age and skill set. Volunteers must pre-register, and children must be accompanied by a parent.
“We have such a wide variety of people who come to our work days. ... It gives kids and adults a chance to learn from each other out in the fresh air,” Foss says.
Join Nature Explorers
A new club at Fontenelle Forest makes sure kids spend more time in nature. “Our kids are overscheduled a lot of the time, and the opportunity just to play and be wild and free doesn’t happen all the time,” says Catherine Harrington, club founder. “So that’s what we want to facilitate.
“An appreciation for nature and our planet is so important for children. They’re obviously the future, and they’re the stewards of the earth going forward.”
The Nature Explorers Club is open to children up to age 18, but the primary focus is on children in lower elementary grades. Kids learn to work collaboratively while parents and children cultivate memories together.
Coming events include nature walks, making your own trail mix and bird feeder, and a lesson on recycling. Follow the Fontenelle Forest Nature Explorers on Facebook and Instagram for more information or go to fontenelleforest.org.
Play citizen scientist
Why not simply go exploring? There are options everywhere to help gather scientific data with your children. The iNaturalist app provides a productive outlet for natural curiosity and allows anyone to become a scientist in their own right.
Explore 19 miles of trails at Fontenelle Forest and join people from all over the world taking photos of flora and fauna and identifying them instantly. No matter how small, every observation you make can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. iNaturalist shares your findings to help scientists discover and utilize your data. All you have to do is go out and observe.
Be a teen naturalist
Are you looking for opportunities for your teen to build a resume and engage in the community? The Teen Naturalist Trainee (TNT) Volunteer Program provides students ages 13 to 19 with experience in community service, networking and skills for their future careers.
Next spring, our TNT program will ramp up as we train a new team of high school students to lead education stations along the forest boardwalk and in the Nature Center. As visitors hike the trails, they could encounter stations where your teen engages them through educational activities. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.