By Curtis Wolf
KWEC site manager
How many of you remember catching tadpoles in a local waterhole, catching fireflies on a summer night, picking and eating wild mulberries, or even just laying in the grass watching clouds roll across the sky. If you remember doing these things as a kid, I bet you are smiling right now.
Now, think about how many of these activities you have seen your children regularly participate in. There is a good chance that the majority of kids these days have never even thought about doing these types of activities.
The fact is today’s youth, for whatever reason, are not given many of the same outdoor opportunities that we were given. Professionals have cleverly coined this "Nature Deficit Disorder." Believe it or not, this is potentially a pretty serious problem. Research has shown direct relationships between the lack of nature experiences by children and common, serious ailments that afflict today’s youth, such as obesity, attention-deficit disorder, and depression. To learn more, I highly recommend you read a book that came out a few years ago called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It will take you back to your childhood and open your eyes to how serious this problem actually is today.
Is it too late? Fortunately, nature centers and environmental educators are waging a war on Nature Deficit Disorder. Multiple organizations and even the U.S. government have realized the problem, and have introduced a "no child left inside" campaign in recent years.
In the age of Playstation, Facebook, and cell phones, outdoor activities are often perceived as mundane and reflect simpler times. However, one of the greatest experiences is seeing the excitement that consumes children when they are immersed, sometimes literally, in these outdoor activities. At the Kansas Wetlands Education Center, we get to see this transition in children from fear and reluctance to childish ecstasy almost daily when kids are simply presented the opportunity to do simple outdoor activities.
This summer, children have had multiple opportunities to combat their Nature Deficit Disorder through programs offered at the KWEC. In June and again this week, the KWEC and Great Bend Recreation Commission partnered to offer two Naturalist Day Camps at the KWEC.
During these two days, approximately 50 campers had the chance to participate in an innovative program that is offered through the Kansas Wildscape Foundation, called the Kansas Wildlifer Challenge. The program is free and anyone from Kansas is eligible to participate (including adults). In the Wildlifer Challenge, participants are presented with 20 outdoor challenges, ranging from planting a tree to pitching a tent. As challenges are completed, participants must document their challenge with a photograph. If 15 of the 20 challenges are met, participants can receive a Coleman gear pack, a t-shirt, and certificate for their accomplishment. What a great incentive to get kids excited about the outdoors! I highly recommend trying out the Wildlifer Challenge. Go to www.kansaswildlifer.com to register and get instructions on how to participate.
Look around you, and find all the opportunities to get your kids outdoors. They are more numerous than you might think, and the kids will thank you for it!