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ID Kid Challenge: One Hour a Day, Go Outside and Play

June 6, 2008

Boise, ID – Idaho kids spend more than six hours every day with their eyes glued to a screen - watching television, playing video games, or on a computer - according to federal child health statistics. But imagine the benefits if they spent at least one of those hours outdoors.

One hour a day - go outside and play. That's the challenge being offered to families at the start of summer vacation by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The organization has compiled research that indicates today's children are suffering what some call a "nature deficit." Kevin Coyle, NWF vice president of education, says the amount of time kids spend outdoors is 50 percent less today than it was 20 years ago.

"On a Saturday afternoon, you really won't see any kids outdoors. They're all indoors. That's really a new phenomenon."

Coyle says unstructured outdoor play has mental and physical benefits, and preventing the summer weight gain that has become common in children is only one of them.

"Kids who have attention deficit problems do a lot better in class when they spend a significant amount of time outdoors in green spaces."

Coyle acknowledges some parents are accustomed to keeping kids indoors, citing "stranger danger" fears - when in fact, there may be more risks lurking in the world of technology.

"The child who's online has a one in five chance of communicating directly with a sexual predator. It's actually, in our opinion, more dangerous for a kid online than it is outdoors."

He says parents can reinforce the importance of outdoor activity by participating themselves - planting a backyard garden, organizing a community "No Child Left Inside Day," or teaming up with law enforcement to make sure public parks are sufficiently patrolled to encourage more outdoor time. More tips are available online, at www.GreenHour.org.

Deborah Smith/Chris Thomas, Public News Service - ID