Kids in Parks: A Solution Presents Itself
It’s ironic that time outside during the school day has been reduced to allow more time
for standardized test preparation when it’s that very time outdoors
that could create higher test scores.
Back to School: Back Outside!
Kevin Coyle, National Wildlife Federation Vice President for Education and Training.
There are SO MANY reasons that we need parks. But the health and future wellbeing of children is chief among them. Lately there has been a small flood of articles and studies showing why being outdoors is so vital for kids. These studies are not just showing that exercise done outdoors is better for kids than indoors (though any is better than none!), but also that when a child is connected with nature her performance in math, reading and science also improves.
In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv defined Nature Deficit Disorder – the lack of nature education and outdoor exposure. His book directly links the lack of nature to the rise in obesity, attention disorders (which negatively impact educational attainment) and depression. He argues, and more and more social scientists and medical researchers are echoing him, that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children AND adults.
And what better place to be exposed to nature than in a park?
A four-year study conducted in partnership between Miami-Dade County Parks and Recreation and the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine found that more than 760 kids who participated in Miami-Dade’s Fit2Play program (a community-wide obesity prevention program) lowered their blood pressure, improved their cardiovascular fitness levels and increased their knowledge regarding health and wellness. Additionally, the program directly helped obese kids to lose weight over the course of the school year, and helped kids who were in the normal weight range to remain in that range.[i]
It is precisely this growing body of evidence that led us to create the Kids In Parks program. Our hope is that in the short-term we will get more kids and families outside and engaged in parks, and that in the long-term we will see a continued increase in park usage and engagement – meaning more friends groups taking ownership of neighborhood parks and more calls for park departments to be fully funded to meet the needs of the community.
The best part is that time and again – for over a century now – strong parks have been shown to be the cause of strong communities. The Proximate Principle has shown that healthy, well-used parks lead to higher property values, stronger schools and more community-minded neighbors.
So while our Kids In Parks program will get kids into the parks in 2015, it will be the beginning of a larger movement that is felt in our schools, in our businesses and in our homes.
We ALL have a vested interest in making kids healthier and helping them to succeed in school. Kids In Parks is an opportunity for a continuing partnership that will bring doctors, nurses, educators, parents, community leaders together with the park and recreation system to do just that.
[i] http://aphaannualmeeting.blogspot.com/2014/11/go-out-and-play-role-of-parks-in-health.html, American Public Health Association