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

December 27, 2011

HELENA, Mont. - A pre-Christmas Neilsen survey found that 44 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 12 had an iPad on their wish list. No report yet on how many saw that wish come true, but electronics certainly dominate the lives of children these days. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is trying to help families pare down the average eight hours a day children spend in front of screens.

NWF naturalist David Mizejewski says even in states like Montana 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."

Those technologies can be used to research locations for outdoor adventures, he acknowledges, and he notes that applications can be downloaded on phones and tablets to help families identify plants and critters.

Why should parents care? Mizejewski says a vast amount of research shows that outdoor time is good for kids in terms of better 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 for maximum benefits for children, Mizejewski says the best outdoor time should be unstructured - just letting them poke around and explore, either alone or with friends or parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a total of 60 minutes of unstructured outdoor play for kids every day.

Tips for parents are available at www.nwf.org. Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks also lists outdoor education resources, at http://fwp.mt.gov/education.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT