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Help Your Kids - Kick Them Outside

My daughter's curiosity is insatiable. Seeing her interact with the world is amazing. At her young age family is almost the only influence she has but soon enough school and peers will enter the picture. This made me consider my own childhood, and the influences that were important to my growth.

As a child I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by woods and fields. I spent countless hours having adventures today's kids would think were reserved for storybooks. I loved school and organized activities but found this opportunity to explore, uninhibited by adults.

Recently I had a discussion with school leaders about getting kids out on their own more, interacting with the physical world instead of just textbooks. Countries that regularly outperform the US do just that. Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv provides substantial research that the disconnect with nature results in increased attention deficit, socialization issues and obesity.

Finland is often sited for what is now considered unconventional education. It outperforms every other country despite spending thousands of dollars less per student, not starting students until 7 years of age and assigning significantly less homework than other educational systems.

American educators say it's apples and oranges; Finland's society is so different from ours there is no comparison. I don't disagree outright but in this global marketplace don't we all have the same aspirations for our kids - health, happiness, and success?

When I asked why kids don't have hands-on outdoor classes such as science, or unstructured time outdoors. Educators respond there's no time. Mandatory testing means teachers have to focus most of their time on textbook studies.

How about encouraging kids to walk or bicycle to school? Surely this would give the children some time to enjoy nature and connect with their community. But parents argue against it.

First.. there's the fear of abduction. Regardless of the evening news' insistence otherwise, children are as unlikely to be abducted today as they were when we were kids.

Next, there's the fear of busy roads. If kids walk instead of being driven you would see a significant decrease in traffic while raising a generation not bound to automobiles.

Finally I was told students haul too many books, instruments and sports equipment, and all that weight just isn't manageable. Why are we loading our kids down with such baggage? Keep the stuff at school.

And just think what walking would do for our childhood obesity problem. Obesity is as much about exercise and diet as it is about motivation and self discovery. Let's put these kids back into nature, back into an environment where they are free to let their curiosity run wild. This source of self motivation and inspiration provides the most productive exercise, exploration, and learning, eventually leading to physical well being, emotional growth and confidence. These are attributes we should all seek in ourselves and our children.

As for my daughter; I hope she never misses an opportunity to experience the world around her and that she continues to chase her curiosity throughout life. So far that plan hasn't let me down.

- Andrew Miller hosts the blog - Elephants on Bicycles.