|4-H Extension Corner|
|Getting Kids Outdoors on Nature’s Journey|
In Alabama, we each have easy access to something wonderful: the peaceful beauty of the Sipsey River, the stunning Pinhoti Trail from Cheaha State Park and the rich wetlands along the Chattahoochee or the Coosa. Even in our urban areas, natural beauty is very close at hand. Think of the amazing Mobile-Tensaw Delta or Birmingham’s Cahaba River and the city’s mountain parks. Right now, in your own backyard, there is a patch of dirt or a flower pot simply waiting for one miraculous sunflower seed or the precious bounty of a "Tommy Toe" vine.
And yet, we get distracted. Our greatest concern might be America’s newest dancing star, next season’s league champion or forwarding an email photo of a kitten. We reach for our remote controls and our smart phones. We Google. Hmm, maybe there’s a news item on our youth and adult obesity epidemic or the financial and physical toll of diabetes. Did you realize, for example, that the medical costs of obesity and inactivity are $150 billion a year? So, what are you and I going to do about it?
In Alabama 4-H, there is no issue more important than the health of our young people. We have brilliant programs employing technology and scientific-based research, and yet something which we in 4-H have found most rewarding is actually very simple: getting kids outdoors.
In Alabama and in 4-H, we value tradition. Our human tradition, actually going back thousands of years, is to be outside hunting our next meal, turning over dirt to plant maize or wandering a pine thicket looking for a lost calf. That tradition kept us strong and lean, and it allowed us to relish the patterns of the stars and the changing of the seasons – our place in the cosmos.
Now, over a decade or two, many of us have totally lost contact with nature. And scientific research shows that disconnection has had a physical and emotional impact. Young people who go outside to play don’t get sick as often. They are not as stressed or as aggressive. They are more flexible and adaptable when faced by the challenges of life. Early exposure to nature (called "playing in the dirt") even boosts kids’ immune systems.
Like the Chinese proverb suggests, the longest journey begins with the first step. That certainly holds true for lifelong health and fitness. It means putting the phone down on the counter, hiding the remote control and lacing on your walking shoes. Taking a child for a walk – and maybe learning the name of a new tree or a pretty bird – can be the start of a wonderful and amazing journey.
Chuck Hill is a 4-H Youth Development Specialist.