Dear Earthtalk, my kids just want to play video games and watch TV all day. Do you have any tips for getting them outside to appreciate nature more?
Getting kids away from computer and TV screens and outside into the fresh air is an increasing challenge for parents everywhere. Researchers have found that U.S. children today spend about half as much time outdoors as their counterparts did 20 years ago. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that kids aged eight to 18 spend on average more than seven and a half hours a day—or some 53+ hours per week—engaging with so-called entertainment media. Meanwhile, the Children & Nature Network (C&NN), a non-profit founded by writers and educators concerned about “nature deficit disorder,” finds that, in a typical week, only six percent of American kids aged nine to 13 plays outside on their own.
According to Richard Louv, a founding board member of C&NN and author of the book, Last Child in the Woods, kids who stay inside too much can suffer from “nature deficit disorder” which can contribute to a range of behavioral problems including attention disorders, depression and declining creativity as well as physical problems like obesity. Louv blames parental paranoia about potential dangers lurking outdoors and restricted access to natural areas—combined with the lure of video games, websites and TV.
Of course, one of the keys to getting kids to appreciate nature is for parents to lead by example by getting off the couch and into the outdoors themselves. Since kids love being with their parents, why not take the fun outside? For those kids who need a little extra prodding beyond following a parent’s good example, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), a leading national non-profit dedicated to preserving and appreciating wildlife, offers lots of suggestions and other resources through its Be Out There campaign.
One tip is to pack an “explorer’s kit”—complete with a magnifying glass, binoculars, containers for collecting, field guides, a notebook, bug repellent and band-aids—into a backpack and leave it by the door to facilitate spontaneous outdoor adventures. Another idea is to set aside one hour each day as “green hour,” during which kids go outside exploring, discovering and learning about the natural world.
NWF’s online Activity Finder helps parents discover fun outdoor activities segmented by age. Examples include going on a Conifer Quest and making a board displaying the different types of evergreen trees in the neighborhood, turning an old soda bottle into a terrarium and building a wildlife brush shelter.
Another great source of inspiration is C&NN which, during the month of April, is encouraging people of all ages to spend more time outdoors at various family-friendly events as part of its nationwide Let’s Get Outside initiative. Visitors to the C&NN website can scroll through dozens of events within driving distance of most Americans—and anyone can register an appropriate event there as well.
Researchers have found that children who play outside more are in better shape, more creative, less aggressive and show better concentration than their couch potato counterparts—and that the most direct route to environmental awareness for adults is participating in wild nature activities as kids. So do yourself and your kid(s) a favor, and take a hike!
CONTACTS: Richard Louv, www.richardlouv.com; NWF Be Out There, www.nwf.org/Be-Out-There.aspx; C&NN, www.childrenandnature.org.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.
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Dear Earthtalk, I'd like to have a garden that encourages bees and butterflies. What's the best approach?
Attracting bees and butterflies to a garden is a noble pursuit indeed, given that we all depend on these species and others (beetles, wasps, flies, hummingbirds, etc.) to pollinate the plants that provide us with so much of our food, shelter and other necessities of life. In fact, increased awareness of the essential role pollinators play in ecosystem maintenance- along with news about rapid declines in bee populations- have led to a proliferation of backyard "pollinator gardens" across the U.S. and beyond.
"Pollinators require two essential components in their habitat: somewhere to nest and flowers from which to gather nectar and pollen," reports the Xerces Society, a Massechusets-based non-profit that protects wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat. "Native plants are undoubtedly the best source of food for pollinators, because plants and their pollinators have co-evolved." But, Xerces adds, many varieties of garden plants can also attract pollinators. Plant lists customized for different regions of the U.S. can be found on the group's website.
Any garden, whether a window box on a balcony or a multi-acre backyard, can be made friendlier to pollinators. Xerces recommends providing a range of native flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season to provide food and nesting for bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Xerces also says that clustering flowering plants together in patches is preferable to spacing individual plants apart "Creating foraging habitat not only helps the bees, butterflies and flies that pollinate these plants, but also results in beautiful, appealing landscapes."
Along these lines, gardeners should plant a variety of colors in a pollinator garden, as color is one of the plant kingdom's chief clues that pollen or nectar is available. Master gardener Marie Iannotti, an About.com gardening guide, reports that blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow flowers are particularly attractive to bees. She adds that different shapes also attract different types of pollinators, and that getting as much floral diversity of any kind going is a sure way to maximize pollination.
Another way to attract pollinators is to provide nest sites for bees- see how on the xerces.com website. The group also suggests cutting out pesticides, as these harsh chemicals reduce the available nectar and pollen sources in gardens while poisoning the very insects that make growing plants possible. Those looking to go whole hog into pollinator gardening might consider investing $30 in Xerces Soceity's recently published book, Attracting Native Pollinators: Protecting North America's Bees and Butterflies, which provides a good deal of detailed information about pollinators and the plants they love.
Gardeners who have already encouraged pollinators can join upwards of $1,000 other who have signed onto Xerces Pollinator Protection Pledge. And the icing on the cake is a "Pollinator Habitat" sign from Xerces stuck firmly in the ground between two flowering native plants so passersby can learn about the importance of pollinators and making them feel welcome.
CONTACTS: Xerces Society, www.xerces.org, About.com “Bee Plants,” gardening.about.com/od/attractingwildlife/a/Bee_Plants.htm.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E - The Environmental Magazine (www.emagazine.com). Send questions to:email@example.com. Subscribe: www.emagazine.com/subscribe. Free Trial Issue: www.emagazine.com/trial.