Spring Reboot

Unplug the family and get outside


By Alyce Pearce

It is enough to make any conscientious parent wince: According to the National Wildlife Federation, the average American child spends four to seven minutes in unstructured play per day, but more than seven hours per day in front of an electronic screen.

Even worse, little of that time is spent playing hide and seek: Only one-quarter of children play outside on a daily basis, compared to nearly three-quarters just a single generation ago; and, not just in the cities, but in rural areas as well.

The modern culprits are many: Visceral video games. Prolific technology. Narrowing educational curriculums that ditch science for test scores. Abandoned lots and wild spaces replaced by neighborhoods that leave little to the imagination. DVD road trips instead of families playing “I Spy” out the window together.

Even Bend kids, growing up with unparalleled outdoor opportunities, are not exempt from the disturbing national statistics of childhood obesity, with 21 percent of ninth graders overweight or at risk for obesity in Deschutes County, according to a recent Oregon Healthy Teen Survey.

So, what’s a parent to do? Enter: The Children’s Forest, a pioneering local nonprofit that strives to reconnect kids with nature, and in the process, combat obesity with a healthy dose of exploring the outdoors.

“With kids spending as much as eight to ten hours a day in front of screens, it’s more important than ever that we give them opportunities to build a connection with nature throughout their childhood,” says Katie Chipco, coordinator for Children’s Forest. “This can be in a corner of the backyard, in a local park, on a hiking trail, or beyond.”

Chipco reassures parents that they don’t have to launch a major expedition to the top of Mt Bachelor to be physically active and find nature. Within walking distance, she points out, almost every Bend resident has access to parks and natural spaces—and, if they don’t, Children’s Forest can help, providing free parent resources and accessible, inspiring activities to keep kids connected to nature and being healthy close to home.

For more information about Children’s Forest Central Oregon, including information about snowshoe trips, check out childrensforestco.org.

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