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Autumn arrives early, get the children outdoors

September 19, 2009
By Joe Hackett

It's here and it has arrived early. Ferns have turned and autumn is again in the air. With a wiff of woodsmoke and the musky scent of forest decay, the breeze now carries a bite and it sure is sweet!

As daylight hours continue to diminish, the flights of geese become more frequent. Although it won't be official until next week, Autumn is present in the air and on the wing. It's underfoot with the crunch of a leaf, or painted on a treelimb, waiting to fall.

This is a time of year that stirs the hearts of sportsmen and women as they wait in anticipation of the coming months. Soon, they will enjoy an annual fall ritual and revisit traditions they have savored since childhood.

Last week, as I traveled to Keystone, Colo. for the annual Grassroots Gathering of the Child and Nature Network, I thought about this process.

I realized how fortunate the children of the Adirondacks are to live in a landscape of soaring mountains, wild forests and fresh, clear waters - where opportunities for outdoor recreation are plentiful and people are few.

I also recognized that despite an abundance of natural resources, many Adirondack children are deprived. Though they may be resource rich, without the means to access their local environment they remain pitifully poor.

Fact Box

Outdoor Activities/Calories Burned for 1 Hour of Participation

Canoeing (2 mph): 255

Hunting: 285

Kayaking: 285

Hiking: 338

Backpacking: 398

Rock Climbing: 622

Archery: 195

Mountain Biking: 480

Estimated calories a person weighing 125 pounds will burn. Generally, to maintain your weight, the amount of calories you take in should equal the amount you burn. To lose one U.S. pound, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you take in as food.

Their situation is akin to smelling the sweets contained in a locked candy jar. Eventually, even sweets will take on a sour cast if unused.

However, just as with a locked candy jar, it only takes one concerned adult to unlock the sweetness of woodland travel and the wonders of the outdoors. And, if the "green jar" is opened to a child by the age of 5, the treasures of outdoor pleasures will usually last a lifetime.

Studies reveal that a child must be introduced by age 11, if they are to become a lifelong anglers, hunters or skiers. It is a quality of life issue.

Parents must be intentional about taking their children into nature. Unlike previous generations, we cannot operate under the assumption that they will do it on their own.

Even though local youth are surrounded by an environment that is brimming with opportunities for adventure travel, they often lack the skills and equipment necessary to access the adventures available in their own backyard.

Just because these children live in a rural area, we should not assume they will automatically embrace the outdoor world. In fact, they are likely more suseptible to the electronic addictions of computers and video games than urban youth.

In many small towns, rural children have far fewer recreational outlets than urban youth. The movie theatres, bowling alleys and hangouts of our younger days may no longer exist.

In a cruel twist of fate, our local youth are often trapped in a land of plenty with no means of enjoying the riches. If a child's parents don't participate, in most cases the children won't. They may never hoist a pack, swim in a lake or stare at the stars from a mountain peak.

From a sportsman's perspective, efforts to reconnect youth with nature is vital not only to their future health, but also to the future of wildlife conservation and our outdoor sporting heritage. It's important to encourage the next generation's interest in the outdoors because today's youth will be tomorrow's conservationists, and the future of traditional outdoors pursuits such as hunting and fishing will depend upon them.

Why visit the

woods and waters?

Current research has cast new light on the restorative capabilities of nature, as recent studies reveal the many benefits of natural travel. We now know that nature can be a theraputic environment.

Rachael Carson claimed that, "Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life." and it's been said that, "The outside of a mountain is good for the inside of a man."

The naturalist John Muir once claimed, "I am well again, I came to life in the cool winds and crystal waters of the mountains."

Natural play has been linked to improved academic performance, increased self esteem, well being and energy. Active outdoor play can help to combat obesity and reduce episodes of asthma. It can decrease depressive symtoms and improve mood and emotional well being.

Exposure to nature increases a child's ability to focus, enhances their cognitive abilities and reduces stress. It makes for a happier, healthier lifestyle and it can lead to a longer and better life, a continuing education and a more certain future.

Research has shown that time spent in nature can help to reduce symtoms of ADHD and improve social skills.

"Getting kids outdoors more, riding bikes, running, swimming and especially experiencing nature directly, could serve as an antidote to much of what ails the young," explained Richard Louv, chairman and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network.

Children playing in a natural setting are less competitive and more likely to share in the fun. They become more protective and concerned with their playmates and are less aggressive and more caring. Outdoor play can help to build a sense of community and create a sense of place.

The "free play" available in a natural setting has proven beneficial to learning and childhood development. It fills a child's need to discover and satisfies their natural curiosity. It has been shown to enhance problem-solving abilities and promote emotional intelligence.

Children are smarter, more cooperative, happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied opportunities for free and unstructured play in the out-of-doors.

"Children who get a chance to play outside have been shown to play more creatively than kids who spend a lot of time with electronic media," explained Liz Baird, director of school programs for North Carolina Museum of Natural History in Raleigh,NC. "Children who play outside have less of a chance to experience childhood obesity issues. There are reduced Attention Deficit Disorder symptoms. They have a stronger connection with the natural world and the world around them."

I spoke with Ms. Baird at the conference in Keystone. She is the creator of Take a Child Outside Week, an international effort to help children discover the natural world and become good stewards as they become our future leaders.

The week-long movement, hosted from Sept. 24-30, will offer a variety of activities to enjoy with a child and your own inner child.

Locally, The Wild Center in Tupper Lake will be hosting a variety of events to celebrate the week in the wild with Sensory Walks, Flyfishing, Nature Photography, Fort Building and more. For further information, call The Wild Center at 359-7800 or visit or

For information on The Child and Nature Network visit and for ideas on how to get outdoors with your children, visit, a collabrative venture of environmental groups and outdoor equipment manufacturers that will help guide parents to the resources to help you to get outside with your child.

Outdoor activity combats

childhood obesity

According to the National Health and Nutrition Survey, an estimated 16 percent of Americans ages six to 19 are overweight. Parents and children can take control of this epidemic by getting outdoors.

Researchers in England and Sweden found that joggers who exercise in a natural green setting with trees, foliage, and landscape views, feel more restored, and less anxious, angry, and depressed, than people who burn the same amount of calories in gyms or other built settings. Research is continuing into what is called "green exercise."

The physical benefits are obvious. More outdoor play, of any kind, will help prevent child obesity. In fact, the role of nature experiences is underappreciated. Listed below is a chart that details the calories burned for each outdoor activity.



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