Page 2 of 3   <       >

Getting Lost in the Great Indoors

Paul Hefner, 10, and Kevin Wood, 11, enjoy the trampoline in the Hefner family's large back yard in Great Falls. Paula Hefner, Paul's mother, said that her children play sports but that no one in the family uses the yard very often.
Paul Hefner, 10, and Kevin Wood, 11, enjoy the trampoline in the Hefner family's large back yard in Great Falls. Paula Hefner, Paul's mother, said that her children play sports but that no one in the family uses the yard very often. "When they come home, it's inside time," she said. (Photos By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)

With this generation of children, he said, "I think were going to pay a price if we don't turn this around."

His views have touched a nerve -- in an era when people tell stories of backyard play sets that are barely used and children who are so accustomed to playing video games that they use their thumbs to ring doorbells or dial phones.

At the National Wildlife Federation, Kevin Coyle, vice president for education, said Louv's book attached a name and a framework to a phenomenon everyone knew existed but no one had quite articulated.

Coyle's group, which publishes Ranger Rick and Your Big Backyard magazines, looked for a way to take the next step. It started promoting the "green hour" -- and the idea that children need a casual hour outdoors each day in the same way they need a good night's sleep or a vitamin.

At least 30 grass-roots efforts have been started across the country in the past two years -- focusing on legislation, nature centers, nature-based preschools, community open space and other matters, said Amy Pertschuk, managing director of the Children & Nature Network, which was co-founded by Louv.

In Connecticut, state officials launched a No Child Left Inside program last year that, among other things, allows foster families to use state parks free and encourages families to visit parks through a contest called the Great Park Pursuit.

All of this is so new that most parents don't know it exists -- although many have been quietly waging their own battles against the demise of unstructured outdoor time.

Jolene Ivey, a mother of five sons in Cheverly and a Democratic member of the Maryland House of Delegates, said she makes a point of buying her children outdoor toys and games -- a trampoline for a Christmas gift, some squirt guns for the summer.

She has not bought video game systems. Her 9-year-old's preoccupation with the computer is enough trouble. When she walks into her house, she said, she does not even check to see whether he is playing on it. She just says, "Troy, get off the computer!"

Experts suggest a major factor in the decline of outdoor time is parental fears about leaving children unattended -- aggravated by excessive media coverage of horrific crimes.

Changes in family life have also had an influence: more mothers in the workforce, more structured playtime, more organized sports. Fewer hours are left for kids to slip out the back door and play hide-and-seek, catch fireflies, skip stones, create imaginary worlds around makeshift forts.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, children 8 to 18 spend 6.5 hours a day on television, electronic games, computers, music and other media, with many multitasking electronically. For many, the virtual world has become a more familiar setting than the natural one.


<       2        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company