Health professionals have waged war, at least on the dietary front, of the current health crisis plaguing American children. Schools and parents have reconsidered the entire school lunch menu, including snacks, soda machines, and the use of processed foods in an effort to stem the growing child obesity problem in the United States. When it comes to children’s health, diet definitely plays an important role, but what is even more encouraging is that the government has taken up the battle on a new front–play.
The North American culture has changed in a way that has taken the emphasis away from the value of free play. In fact, according to recent studies, most children are overscheduled and over committed in ways that leave very little time for creative play and outdoor learning.
In one generation, childhood experiences like climbing a tree, going alone for bicycle rides with friends, or even exploring the neighborhood, have essentially disappeared. Whereas direction from parents used to be “make sure you are home by dinner,” children now rarely leave the confines of their own backyards. And with increasing frequency, they rarely leave the house at all, preferring electronic games or being on the computer alone to being outside. That’s a big problem.
Why Children Need to Play Outdoors
There are a number of wellness benefits that children receive when permitted to play outdoors. While the world around them has changed and safety has become a limited factor and concern for parents, children still need ample outdoor activity for healthy development.
When children play outdoors they build vital immunity and resistance to infection and viruses. Children raised on a farm not only have fun, but they have a stronger immunity after being exposed to animals, bacteria, dirt, and even insects. While American culture has become bacterial-phobic, exposure actually does a great deal of good for developing children.
Exercise is essential, and, frankly, children are not getting enough of it anymore. When it comes to exercise that benefits them the most, think less of the treadmill and more of playing tag or hide-and-seek, riding bicycles with family and friends, baseball, football, or simply exploring nature at the local park. These activities utilize all aspects of their physical and cognitive abilities and promote health, wellness, and even natural relief from stress and anxiety.
Children need about thirty minutes to one hour of exposure to sunlight every day for good health. Sunlight is the best source of the essential nutrient Vitamin D, which promotes balanced moods, energy levels, memory and focus.
The New Federal Initiative
In September of 2015 the “Every Kid in a Park” program will begin with the purpose to ensure that American children are getting the necessary healthy playtime they need outdoors. Additionally, the program encourages the utilization of National Parks in the USA, helping to educate children on beauty and value of preserving environmental green spaces and wilderness areas.
In 2016 the National Park Service will celebrate 100 years in service. The new program will provide families of fourth grade students, chaperones who accompany the children, and educational organizations, with free passes to many local National Parks. The free pass will not only provide a one-time access, but be a free pass for use over a full year, allowing families and kids with free admission to any National Park they choose to visit, and as many times as they wish to return during the pass period.
While most National Parks are not within walking distance for children, the program aims to remove the financial barrier for families and schools by making admission free during the one year period. Budgetary constraints have seen an erosion of school field trips, and the program is designed to renew interest and utilization of the United States National Parks Service while inspiring children, adults, and educators to plan more time together outdoors.
For more information about the program, or to pledge or donate to the National Parks Service, visit the National Park Foundation website. For the Whitehouse fact sheet and news release on the program, click here for more information.