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Marylanders Encouraged to Pledge: ‘Be Out There’ for 2012

December 27, 2011

BALTIMORE - A pre-Christmas Neilsen survey found 44 percent of kids between the ages of six and 12 had an iPad on their wish lists. No report on how many saw that wish come true, but electronics certainly dominate the lives of children these days, and the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is trying to help parents pare down the average eight hours a day kids spend in front of screens.

NWF naturalist David Mizejewski says that, even in states like Maryland with vast outdoor resources, kids still tend to prefer technology.

"It's not that there's anything necessarily inherently bad about all those great technologies, but I think anyone would agree that eight hours a day for a kid to be indoors, sedentary, in front of electronic media, is too much."

He says those technologies can be used to research locations for outdoor adventures, and applications can be downloaded on phones and tablets to help identify plants and animals. The Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature offers more tips online at www.dnr.state.md.us

And why should parents care? Mizejewski says there's a vast amount of research showing that outdoor time for kids is good for grades, behavior and health.

"Parents can make it a resolution: In 2012, I'm going to make this a priority, to get outside with my kids, or build some outdoor time back into my kids' schedule, because it's an important thing to do."

Sports are one way to get kids outdoors, but Mizejewski says the best outside time for maximum benefits should be unstructured, just letting children poke around and explore, either alone or with friends and parents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a total of 60 minutes of unstructured outdoor play for kids every day.

More ideas for parents are at www.nwf.org

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD