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No child left inside

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Beth Wheelock Tallon
August 23, 2012

Mary Fanning-Penny is the executive director at Rotary Botanical Gardens. She also serves on the board of directors for both United Way Blackhawk Region and the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors and the time they spend outside, actively enjoying nature.

According to a nationwide poll from The Nature Conservancy, only about 10 percent of today’s youth say they are spending time outdoors every day. There are dangers associated with raising a generation that doesn't take part in outdoor activities, including a lack of appreciation for the natural world around them. Childhood obesity levels in America have tripled over the last three decades and nearly 1 in 3 children is overweight or obese. Obesity is linked to many long-term health effects including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even certain types of cancers (Source: Center for Disease Control).

Growing up, I played outside with my sister and friends all the time. We rode bikes, went swimming and got dirty playing at the playground. And on rainy days, we played a little Nintendo. Nowadays, the majority of kids are using technology on a daily basis, remaining inactive and indoors for long periods of time. A 2010 Nielsen study concluded that kids age 6-11 are spending on average 55 hours a week watching television, playing video games, texting and using other portable gadgets. If that was their full-time job, they’d be getting paid overtime. Even toddlers and preschoolers rack up an average of 33 hours of TV a week.

Heavily scripted experiences via technology, while stimulating, offer few opportunities for children to use their imaginations or to learn through physical play. More than just getting kids out of the house, learning through play has been linked to foundational life skills and abilities, including: language, math, dexterity, coordination, vision, problem-solving, teamwork and much more. Furthermore, when education is incorporated into playful activities, it becomes something kids want to do rather than something they have to.

Rotary Botanical Gardens is a local, nonprofit organization that offers great alternatives to spending long hours on the couch. Simply put, the Gardens' mission is about horticulture education and appreciation for all. Through creative youth and family programming, the Gardens become an outdoor classroom where fun and learning go hand in hand.

Story & Stroll, a monthly program for 2-4 year olds, centers on early childhood literacy, natural science and getting young kids moving outdoors using stories, games and mini-garden tours . A new Family Walk & Talk series (for kids age 6+ and their grown-ups) incorporates lessons on local critters and wild things with interactive romps through the Gardens. The Discovery Backpacks and Pixie Spy Packs provide tools for self-guided adventures and a framework to let kids’ investigative natures run wild. What’s the common thread? Creating fun, dynamic learning opportunities coupled with outdoor activity.

Obviously, there’s no turning back the clock on technological advances nor should that be a goal. There are awesome physical activities that incorporate technology, including: letterboxing, geocaching, QR code scavenger hunts and more. What we hope to facilitate is a healthy balance.

Rotary Botanical Gardens is proud to belong to the Wisconsin No Child Left Inside Coalition, as well as First Lady Michelle Obama’s exercise initiative, Let’s Move! In doing so, Rotary Botanical Gardens provides kids and families with inspiration to get outside, get moving and to explore Nature.

For more information on the Gardens’ educational programs, visit rotarybotanicalgardens.org.

Mary Fanning-Penny
Executive Director
Rotary Botanical Gardens



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