Spending time outside in nature may mean the difference between nurturing healthy children and kids who are overstressed and suffering from "nature deficit disorder."
An organization, Leave No Child Inside Northwest Ohio, is working to alleviate the syndrome of spending too much time indoors by providing a network where families can discover lots of ways - and reasons - to get outside regularly.
"Studies have shown that kids perform better in school, have fewer health issues and problems with childhood obesity when they spend time outside," said Mary Warren, naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife at Magee Marsh Wildlife Area, Oak Harbor, and coordinator of the northwest Ohio group. "They're so plugged into electronics and computers, we're trying to change the trend a little bit."
Linda Rose, who works as program director for Seneca County Park District, head teacher at the park district's Out & About Preschool and naturalist for Sandusky County Park District, is on the LNCI steering committee.
"There is a growing need to get children, and their parents as well, into the outdoors," Rose said. "Nature is important to a child's development - socially, physically, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. As a child's connection to and time spent in nature has declined, childhood ailments and other medical problems have greatly increased."
As one of the group's founders, Rose said she got the idea from a book.
About the group
The steering committee is comprised of representatives from Black Swamp Bird Observatory, ECO Discovery!, Lourdes University, Lucas Soil & Water Conservation District, Metroparks of the Toledo Area, Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife, Sandusky County Park District, Seneca County Park District, Olander Park System, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Wood County Park District.
Other partners include Tiffin Park & Recreation Department, Agility Angels Inc., Bass Pro Shops, Boy Scouts of America Erie Shores Council, city of Sylvania, Toledo Division of Parks & Forestry, Crawford Soil & Water Conservation District, Environmental Education Council of Ohio, Erie Metroparks, Erie Soil & Water Conservation District, Fort Meigs, Fremont YMCA, Friends of Magee Marsh, Fulton County Birding Club, Girl Scouts Heart of Michigan, Girl Scouts of Western Ohio, Nature's Nursery, Ottawa County 4-H, ProMedica, Sylvania City Schools, Sylvania Parks & Forestry, Toledo's Puppet Lady Joyce Davis, Wilson Lake and the Rock Bass, Wood-Lucas Pheasants Forever, Wyandot Soil & Water Conservation District and YMCA of Greater Toledo.
"I had read Richard Louv's book 'Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder' in 2006 and knew that our children are in danger of never having the experiences that their parents and grandparents had in nature," she said.
When she met Alice Hohl and Jenny Morgan from Central Ohio LNCI at a conference, she thought it would be a great idea to start a northwest Ohio group.
"Realizing that I did not want or have the time to chair an LNCI group, I spoke with naturalists from different counties," she said. "It was Mary Warren from Magee Marsh who got the group organized."
Since its start Sept. 11, 2009, the group has grown substantially.
The coalition is open to new members and community support to further LNCI's mission to provide a network of organizations and individuals promoting the well-being of every child and family through the discovery and exploration of the great outdoors.
"Most of us work in natural resources," Warren said. "We have that area covered, but we'd like to spread out into other areas."
For example, she said she would like to see health care organizations get involved.
"Being fit and healthy and being outside is good for you," she said. "We kind of focus on kids, but it's the whole family because a
lot of families don't get outside.
"We're looking for anybody that works with kids and families," she said. "We're just trying to spread the word about all the opportunities to get kids outside."
One means of spreading the word is the organization's website, www.everychildoutsidenwoh.org.
"Our goal is to connect people with the variety of outdoor activities, such as camping, bird watching, canoeing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits available in our region," states the website.
Rose said organized programs are available and it's great to meet with people to hike and take part in outdoor activities.
"But people need to know that nature can be found in their own backyard, if they just take the time to observe what wildlife is out there," she said. "Almost every town or village has a park. And most counties have a county park district. In Seneca County, there are five county parks and three cooperative parks. And it's all free."
The website provides families or individuals a central location for finding
outdoor recreation places and events.
The "How and Where to Get Outside" page lists parks, nature centers, preserves and other places in each county and neighboring counties.
On the "News and Events" page, click "Upcoming Events" to find lists of happenings to get people outside. Examples are volunteer days, nature hikes, canoe trips and "green" festivals.
Teachers, naturalists, club advisers and others who lead young people can find outdoor lesson plans, ideas for field trips and other information on the "For Educators & Naturalists" page.
One way to support the group is to link to the website from other sites. Another is to sign up for its RSS feed to keep up date when new information is posted.
Organizations are encouraged to send in dates and details about outdoor activities in northwest Ohio.
But mostly the group encourages people to get involved by getting outside to do such activities as take children and grandchildren for walks, picnics and to participate in park programs.
One example of an event happening through March 11 is "The Outside is In" at W.W. Knight Nature Preserve, Perrysburg. The hands-on exhibit brings aspects of the outdoors into the nature center where children
can investigate a stream, search for fossils and other activities.
"The whole nature center is transformed for two months," Warren said. "It looks like you're outside even though you're inside."
This weekend, several area park districts hosted a children's bird count where they counted birds and the numbers of species they found, and recorded them.
For the past two years, the group has created an exhibit at Bass Pro Shop, Rossford, to gain the attention of customers.
"I think we're definitely getting more people aware what 'No Child Inside' is and what they can do," Warren said.
In April, Warren said the national umbrella organization, the Children and Nature Network, is going to be launching a campaign called "Let's GO."
"GO stands for 'get outside,'" she said. "A lot of our organizations in northwest Ohio will be doing 'Let's GO' activities in April."
Warren invited anyone interested in learning more about research results to visit the Children and Nature Network website, www.childrenandnature.org.
"Kids are healthier and happier if they're outside," she said.