GREEN HOUR: Leading Kids Outdoors

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With homework, activities, T.V. and video games, it’s hard to get kids outside for unstructured play. That has some concerned, especially with the childhood obesity epidemic.

Getting outside is one of Claire Anderson’s favorite activities. She says, “Because it’s so nice, and there’s so much cool things out in nature.”

The kindergartner’s mom is a naturalist with Polk County Conservation. And, even she admits, it’s hard to find time to get outdoors without an agenda. Heidi Anderson says, “As much as we love nature, we try to get the kids out, but it’s challenging when they’re in soccer and tee ball and scouts to make that time.”

The National Wildlife Federation has a thing called the green hour. It encourages kids to explore nature for an hour every day. Naturalist Lori Foresman-Kirpes says, “To help with the obesity epidemic, to help with ADHD: they’ve done all kinds of studies that have proven facts, if you get your kids outside, they’re going to have less of these problems.”

Foresman-Kirpes says the hour should be unstructured time for kids to explore, listen to birds, identify trees or even find bugs. She says, “Kids really need, they need that free play, time to get out, be themselves, be kids, get a little dirty.”

Polk County Conservation offers park packs to help. Families can borrow the nature-themed backpacks for two weeks for free. Foresman-Kirpes says, “We’ve got picture books in every pack depending on the theme that helps kids learn.”

This bird-themed park pack includes group activities like bird bingo, a field guide and binoculars to help you get a glimpse of the goldfinches. Foresman-Kirpes says, “It helps tune them in. So, instead of doing their electronic games, instead of watching T.V., this is helping them tune into nature, and what’s around them, and what you can find here in your backyard.”

A backyard the Andersons like exploring, as much as they can. Heidi says, “Usually they find something to keep themselves occupied.”

The Park Packs are becoming popular, so naturalists recommend you call ahead to Polk County Conservation to reserve one. Go to the leading your kids outdoors website for more information. ¬†You’ll also find other family friendly nature events there.

Other counties have started offering park packs, so check with your local conservation office.