Let's help our kids celebrate the Northwest's natural wonders

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WE'VE ALL SEEN the magazine covers and television shows about American children and their adult pressures: They spend too much time on the computer. They're too overbooked. They have too much homework and not enough exercise. Toddlers get flashcards, third graders get sports tutoring and middle schoolers with an eye on college get double-time music lessons.

As we enter a new school year, we take stock of the future - our kids. Somehow, despite all the pressures, despite the slashed school budgets, the looming threats of drugs and Internet predators, kids in the Pacific Northwest still have the chance to be kids just a little bit longer than those elsewhere. Here in the Northwest, children still climb trees. They ride their bikes, walk their dogs. Fourth graders still have fun playing hide-and-seek. A good deal of time - with parents, friends and classmates - is spent outdoors.

Here, nature is not an abstraction. You don't have to travel to see it - it's all around us. Of course, there are computer camps and weight-loss camps, but is it likely many other states have summer camps for kids interested in raptors?

This year, author Richard Louv made news with his book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" (Algonquin, $24.95, 336 pages). Nature, he argues, offers healing for children, but especially those living with grief.

"Unlike television, nature does not steal time, it amplifies it," Louv writes.
John Milton, the 17th-century English author, wrote of a "wilderness of sweets." In the Northwest, children can partake of it: by hanging out on sunny summer afternoons; in the bite of a crisp Hood River Valley apple; in an outdoor classroom.
This tableau stands in contrast to a study published last year by the Kaiser Family Foundation that found that kids' average weekly electronic media exposure is almost 60 hours - more time than most parents spend at work. Another, by UCLA, found that families are in such constant motion, from school to work to games to errands, they don't have time just for playing in the backyard.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found last year that Oregon was the only state in the nation that wasn't getting fatter (though our jogging trails and bike lanes don't make us too superior; 21 percent of us are still obese).
So, then, a challenge for the coming year, and those beyond. Here in Oregon and Washington, let's make a point of understanding and deepening the link between our bodies and the nature that surrounds us.
Let's keep our children moving. Let's make sure they have recess and time to play outside. Time to learn about and appreciate the natural abundance all around us. Some day, it will be their turn to be this land's stewards.

Gabrielle Glaser: 503-221-8271 gabrielleglaser@news.oregonian.com

Article Published: Sunday January 1, 2006 - Reprinted by Permission

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