Vickroy: Reminder to parents: Kids need nature
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 April 20, 2012 9:04PM
Oliver Levy, 4, of Palos Park, looks at pine needles in a stretch of tall pine trees during preschool at the Children's Farm, The Center in Palos Park, Illinois, Thursday, April 19, 2012. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
The three preschools
featured in this column are open to the public.
Little Sprouts Early Learning Center at Pilcher Park, Joliet; jolietpark.org/little-sprouts; (815) 741-7277
Family Development Center at Governors State University, University Park; govst.edu/children/; (708) 235-7300
Farm & Nature Discovery Preschool at the Children’s Farm, Palos Park; thecenterpalos.org/preschool.html; (708) 361-8933
To view more photos, visit southtownstar.com
Updated: May 23, 2012 8:07AM
Julia Segvich loves to catch butterflies.
“I like the birds and the sun, too,” the 5-year-old Orland Park girl said.
Her favorite thing about attending Farm & Nature Discovery Preschool at the Children’s Farm in Palos Park, however, is the lamb.
“It’s so cute, but I’m kind of afraid to get too close,” she said.
Youngsters who attend one of several local preschools that emphasize outdoor exploration are the lucky ones, their teachers say.
They buck the norm because they play outside.
“Go outside and play” used to be a ubiquitous phrase. That was back when Red Rover, pickup baseball and transforming a wooded lot into a magical forest were common pastimes for packs of curious kids.
These days, parents are reluctant to open the back door and let their children run.
According to new research published in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine, which analyzed data from the parents of nearly 9,000 preschoolers, less than 50 percent of the children went outside with their parents on a daily basis. Girls were less likely, by 16 percent, to get outside than boys.
On this Earth Day, we asked local preschool experts what is lost as a result of this trend.
Children are missing not only a lot of fun but different ways of being cognitively stimulated, said Carol Morrison, executive director of the Family Development Center at Governors State University. The center offers programs for parents and children up to age 12, including a preschool in which the enrollees head outdoors daily, weather permitting.
“We’re seeing that some kids who don’t go outside regularly are having sensory issues,” Morrison said. “Kids need to feel the wind on their face. They need to pick up logs and smell flowers.”
Reasons for the trend vary. Some adults fear their children will get sick from being outdoors. Others worry about safety. And most parents these days are simply too busy.
Cathy Rehr, supervisor of the Little Sprouts Early Learning Center at Pilcher Park in Joliet, said, “If children are not exposed to soil organisms early in life, their immune systems seem to overreact when they finally are introduced later.”
Rehr has seen shy kids blossom into confident leaders once they’re allowed outside.
The kids in Little Sprouts have been outside all but two days in the two years since the program began. They dig for worms, pick up toads, catch butterflies and point out fungus growing on fallen trees.
“They develop a sense of how the world around them works,” Rehr said.
“You’d be surprised how many have never climbed a tree before. Many don’t know what to do without structured playground equipment to guide them. When you take that away, their imaginations soar. A stick becomes a guitar. A pile of rocks becomes a damn in a shallow creek. They make up all kinds of games.”
When Kristin Hale was a kid, she wasn’t allowed to watch TV.
“We were forced to play outside,” said Hale, director of the Farm & Nature Discovery Preschool. “Nowadays, parents are so busy with work and have so many commitments that it’s easier for them to just let the kids watch TV or play video games. Going outside means parents must go outside, too.”
For many, especially working parents, the day gets away from them quickly, Hale said.
But, she adds, growing up indoors can have long-term ramifications.
“We’re losing an appreciation for nature,” she said. “We want our children to be good stewards of the Earth. They can’t be if they don’t spend time outdoors getting to know it.”
Outdoor play, she said, increases physical activity and builds imagination and creativity.
There are also school-based skills to be gleaned from it.
The farm preschool emphasizes science and math skills, she said. Children learn about bugs, soil, farm animals and plants. They count and look for patterns.
Mostly, though, they have fun.
While chasing butterflies, Brian McBride, 5, stooped to pick up a giant piece of bark. He hoisted it over his head.
“See this?” he asked no one in particular. “This is my power. If I keep it, my power will grow and keep from wearing down.”