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Backyard to Backwoods: Kids need the outdoors for many reasons

Aiden and Logan Maanum are getting plugged into nature. (Steve Maanum/For the Enterprise)

On Feb. 9 First Lady Michelle Obama was interviewed on ABC's "Good Morning America" program. She was discussing a "Let's Move" campaign designed to fight against obesity in children. Whatever your political views are, I hope the subject of obesity and inactivity in children is a concern that crosses party lines.

A new Kaiser Family Foundation study, released in January, stated that the average American child from ages 8-18 spends close to eight hours each day 'plugged in' to televisions, computers, video games, and other electronic media. That's an increase of 20% over the last five years. It also stated that American children receive less than thirty minutes of outside play each week.

In my Sept. 26 column I mentioned Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods (Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder)." Have you read it yet? On page 47, the author says, "The childhood link between outdoor activity and physical health is clear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. population of overweight children increased by almost 36 percent from 1989-1999. Two out of 10 American children are clinically obese - four times the percentage reported in the late 1960's."

On page 54 he goes on to say, "Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity."

In today's schools the emphasis is on higher standardized test scores, so how or why should nature and outdoor activity be a priority? Nationwide studies showed that schools and communities using outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-based experiential education were associated with significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math.

The American Institute for Research (2005) found that students involved in outdoor science programs improved their science testing scores by 27 percent. Additional studies found that using hands-on approaches supported critical brain development in kids. (Reuters, 2008.)

In 2007, the Minnesota Department of Education stated, "Science is the active study of nature, its structures and its processes. Science students use their senses and tools to observe, record, and analyze data about the natural world. Scientifically literate young people can understand phenomena, solve problems, and produce new technologies for today's world."

To me, that means if we are going to raise science test scores, we have to not only interest kids in science; we have to involve them. One way to do that is through nature photography.

"The Digital Bridge to Nature" is designed to teach about the environment through the lens of a camera. Over the next two years eighty schools and nature centers around Minnesota will host workshops that will use photography as a means of getting people outside and connecting them to nature.

Think of all the other ways you can help get kids unplugged from their televisions, computers, and video games for just a little while. Find time to join them outside for your favorite activities at this time of year and throughout the seasons. Get plugged into nature and use the outdoors as your outlet.

Steve Maanum can be reached at sdmaanum@