Monday, March 15, 2010

Growing Up in a Place: No Child Left Inside

Lately, my husband and four-year old son have been obsessed with Super Mario Brothers for the Wii.    They spend hours at a time collecting coins, absorbing magic mushrooms and destroying all manner of mythical creatures. While I can remember spending hours on the original NES game myself back in the 80's (yes, I saved the princess), this development highlights a rather strong difference between my husband and I regarding our parenting philosophies: I don't think this is such great thing. He just thinks they are bonding.

Last Saturday we went for a walk in the park; it was the first nice day in a very long time. It quickly became clear how much Super Mario's landscape had invaded my son's mind.  He related inanimate objects to Mario creatures.  He equated the fire pole at the playscape to the flagpole scaled by Mario at the end of each level. As we walked, he pretended to be throwing giant turtle shells at us, and pretended to be hopping to avoid poison mushrooms.

Yes, it was all very cute,  But I do worry (I am a mom, right?). I am not a puritan about video games, but he is very young.  I think there needs to be a balance between fantasy and reality, and there needs to be space for imagination to thrive.  Exploring the outdoors, I believe, is the surest way to stimulate the imagination, and I think it is critical for children.

Raising kids in a cold climate presents some challenges.  Weather can discourage parents from getting their kids outside.We get out to local recreation ares and parks when we can, but not as much as we should.  We are blessed with a wonderful town full of trails, parks, and rivers, and we need to get out there .

The No Child Left Inside movement, which echoes the No Child Left Behind Act, was inspired by Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods, and is trying to bring attention to this issue by combating  so-called "Nature Deficit Disorder."

Local initiatives abound; here in Southeast Michigan we have No Child Left Inside Days (April 20-25) sponsored the the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment, an upcoming summit on the topic at UM Dearborn in June, Nature Connections out of Milford, and a locally authored book, One Child One Planet.

Because we have always been avid hikers, campers, and backpackers, I am really not too worried about my son's video game obsession. We'll get outside soon, as the weather improves. In the meantime, I try to pull him away from time to time, if only to take a breath of fresh air on the front porch.

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