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Agency programs aim to coax kids back outside

• Session: “No Child Left UnWild”

• Speaker: Kevin Frailey, Education Services manager,
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Kevin Frailey presented Michigan’s program for involving children in the outdoors. The often-seen quote from a fourth-grader, “I like to play indoors because that’s where the electric outlets are,” is a sad reality today. Children under 13 spend an average of 30 minutes per week outdoors. The child obesity rate is now at 20 percent, while in 1950 it was a mere 4 percent. These statistics – and Frailey presented many more – should be alarming to parents, teachers and all of us associated in outdoor activities. Frailey quoted author Richard Louv: “[T]he greatest increase in obesity in children has happened at the same time as the greatest increase in organized sports for kids. We’re replacing that free-range play, in which kids spent a lot of time moving, with soccer practice. In fact … the amount of playtime kids have has shrunk by 25 percent in the last 20 years.” Experts blame video games, lack of open space and fear of strangers for this decrease.
The North American Conservation Education Strategy is an effort to align all state fish and wildlife agencies with consistent messages and tools to help reconnect Americans with nature. Federal and state agencies are developing programs to help address the issue of reconnection. The U.S. Forest Service began a program called National Get Outdoors Day. The goal of this event is to encourage kids and their families to participate in healthy, active outdoor activities. Other agencies planning outdoor activities include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and many state DNR agencies. Frailey discussed the Core Concepts Project, which asks participants, “What would you want everyone to know about fish and wildlife?” He stressed the importance of the public understanding that public trust resources are managed by the government, which, in turn, makes them available to all. The challenge to educators and other agency education service managers for K-12 conservation education is, “What should kids know and when should they know it?”
Frailey provided several helpful Web sites – www.fishwildlife.org/consed.html, www.childrenandnature.org and www.fishwildlife.org – as places to begin when looking for information on new and existing programs. Many programs are not only for children, but are family-centered. ◊
By Mary Nickum
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