Help your children enjoy the outdoors
• Photo gallery: Kids enjoy nature
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
Collecting rocks of all sizes and shapes. Pulling weeds in the backyard. Pointing out different kinds of trees.
These are just some of the ways Kaimukī resident Joyce Pien helps her two daughters — ages 4 and 1 — develop an appreciation for nature, which is essential for children, she said.
"It's so natural for kids to be egocentric, so this helps them see beyond their world," said Pien, 34, a former preschool teacher. "This helps them to be a little more compassionate and empathetic."
Parents should be mindful of raising children who appreciate and love nature, experts say. Through Sunday, the National Wildlife Federation — America's largest conservation organization — is sponsoring National Wildlife Week. Its theme, Be Out There at Home, School and Play, encourages children to learn, explore, discover and imagine in nature.
And "The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids," hits bookstores today. Author Todd Christopher is the co-founder of NWF's Green Hour campaign, which promotes the well-being of kids and families through regular exposure to and interaction with the natural world around them.
The average child today spends 7 hours and 38 minutes daily indoors engaged with electronic media, an increase from 6 hours and 21 minutes in 2004, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Lack of outdoor time has been linked to childhood obesity, depression and stress, among other things.
Studies show that unstructured play outdoors improves a child's physical, mental and emotional growth and well-being, said Jamie Nakama, O'ahu program manager at Hawai'i Nature Center. The local organization connects children with nature and educates them about Hawai'i's environment.
"Raising your kids to love nature not only creates healthy, active kids, but it also promotes the health and well-being of our island and of the earth," Nakama said. "Above all, this process ... instills critical values, such as respect and reciprocity — giving back — toward all life, because everything in nature, including humans, is interconnected."
Parents can get started by simply getting their children outside to experience the beauty and wonder of nature, she said.
"The more positive experiences children have in nature, the more they want to learn about it," Nakama said. "And the more they learn, the more their fascination of it grows, which eventually leads to a love for nature."
Pien recently celebrated her 4-year-old's birthday with a party at the Hawai'i Nature Center, where guests went fishing, hiked through a meadow, caught insects and made bugs out of recyclable materials, among other activities.
"It was fabulous," Pien said. "Whenever our kids say, 'When are we going back?' we know that they fully enjoyed themselves."
There's no excuse to not enjoy the great outdoors, especially here in the Islands, Pien added.
"We live in Hawai'i, where we should go out every day of the year," Pien said.
APPRECIATE SIMPLE JOYS
Jamie Nakama, Hawai'i Nature Center's O'ahu program manager, offers these tips for parents to help their children appreciate the simple joys of nature:
• Set aside time each day for kids to get away from electronics and get outside. Studies show that unstructured play in nature is essential to a child's mental, physical and emotional growth and well-being.
• Spend time with your children outdoors, and show your own excitement and enthusiasm for being out in nature. Parents and other adult role models' attitudes have a major influence on children.
• Help develop your child's inherent sense of wonder and awe for nature by setting the stage for discovery. Explore nature in your own backyard. Take your child on a bug hunt and see how many different kinds of creepy crawlies you can find.
• Allow kids to get dirty.
• Wherever you go — to the beach or park — notice your natural surroundings. Encourage your children to directly experience their surroundings by engaging all of their senses.
• Do nature crafts with your children. For example, do leaf rubbings in a nature notebook or collect decomposing plant materials to build a terrarium.
• Create a home garden. Get in the soil. If you don't have space for a garden, plant seeds in small pots and have your children care for them. Caring for a plant and watching it grow from a seed is exciting for kids.
• Make sure your kids are having fun in nature. And find teachable moments. For example, while bug hunting in your backyard, your child may come across an earthworm — show your enthusiasm for the discovery. Then explain that earthworms are amazing creatures that help make soil and are nature's natural recyclers.
• http://www.hawaiinaturecenter.org — Learn about Hawai'i Nature Center's school and public educational programs on O'ahu and Maui.
• www.nwf.org/naturefind — The NatureFind database on the National Wildlife Federation's Web site can help families locate nearby outdoor recreation spots where National Wildlife Week is in full swing.
• http://www.greenhour.org — NWF's Green Hour site gives parents the information, tools and inspiration they need to get their kids — and themselves — outside.
Reach Zenaida Serrano at 535-8174. Follow her Twitter updates at www.twitter.com/zenaidaserrano.