Florida Fish Busters’ April 2011 Try something new this April for Children & Nature Awareness Month

By Bob Wattendorf Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Children and nature, now what could be more wholesome and natural than that? So, why all the fuss and need to designate April as national Children & Nature Awareness Month, and what can you do to get involved? The unfortunate facts are that Americans are becoming more tethered to electronic screens, joysticks and key pads, than they are to the panoramic view, sights and sounds of unbridled nature, or the feel of a fishing rod in their hands or fresh soil beneath their feet. According to the Keiser Family Foundation (2010), the amount of
Today's youth increasingly suffer from "Nature Deficit Disorder." The cure is simple and fun--Get Outdoors Florida!

screen time increases with age, and school-age children are already spending 7.5 hours a day on electronic media! Research published by the American Heart Association reported (Circulation, January 2011) that people who watched four hours or more of TV per day were 80 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 46 percent more likely to die from any cause, based on a six-year study that involved 8,800 adults with no history of heart conditions. Lead researcher David Dunstan (Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute) reported that each additional hour spent watching TV increased the risk

of dying from heart disease by 18 percent and the overall risk of death by 11 percent. The amazing thing was that these results were true even after accounting for nutrition, education level, overall health, age, smoking habits, cholesterol level and blood pressure. Moreover, intense physical activity did not necessarily offset the sedentary time spent sitting around. This is one reason scientists think the current generation of youths may be the first in history to have a shorter lifespan than their parents’ lifespan. Heart disease and obesity are not the only concerns with sedentary indoor lifestyles. Attention deficit disorder, asthma, poor socialization skills, depression, low school grades and lessened work productivity are also associated with this trend. Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” to encapsulate these concerns, and it has resonated throughout the country. The good news, though, is simple: Getting outdoors and enjoying free playtime in nature can reverse the negative impact of this disorder, for our youth and us. Moreover, active, nature-based recreation is fun, inexpensive and widely available year round throughout Florida.

Just this week, my youngest grandson, Luke, and I escaped to the back yard to throw a ball and then checked out some climbing trees. As he descended his favorite tree, we examined a low spot in the woods and talked about how he could create a neat fort with some branches and
Luke exploring the outdoors--a time to think creatively.

nails – or no, he suggested, we could just use vines to hold it together. Those are the energetic and creative thought processes that youth throughout human history have benefitted from when getting outdoors, and they represent what is lacking from much of the current generation. I am the chairman of the Get Outdoors Florida! Coalition that seeks to connect youth to the outdoors through active, nature-based recreation to help them lead happier, healthier and smarter lifestyles and to become better resource stewards. As such, you can perhaps imagine my pride, when my grandson said it was so much more fun to be outdoors; all the TV shows were repeats anyway, and his interactive video game gets boring quickly. This April, find a way to connect with a child or two you care about and enhance their prospects for a happier, healthier and smarter future by getting them outdoors. A variety of events will be taking place around the state and country and the list of websites below can help you find something fun to do together, whether you are an active outdoors enthusiast yourself or just ready to give something new a try.

Children & Nature Awareness Month in April is all about that. One special opportunity, if fishing is your thing, is the Free Freshwater Fishing Weekend on April 2-3, during which you can fish in any open public fishing waters throughout Florida, without purchasing a license (all other rules apply). What’s more is that fishing is considered to be one of the key gateway activities to other forms of outdoor recreation (2009 Outdoor Recreation Participation Report, Outdoor Foundation). Although the study showed youth ages 6 to 17 reduced their overall outdoor recreation participation six percent between 2007 and 2008, the authors noted that families and friends, and keeping it “fun” are the keys to greater involvement. So with that in mind, this April consider becoming an Anglers’ Legacy Ambassador. Anglers' Legacy is simply about making a promise to introduce somebody new to fishing. There is no membership fee and no obligation. Visit AnglersLegacy.org and complete the pledge, entering FLFWC as the partner code.

Check out these websites for places to go, things to
Take the Angler's Legacy pledge today and introduce someone knew to the outdoor world through fishing. Photo courtesy of TakeMeFishing.org

do, and information about the benefits of getting outdoors.

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Get Outdoors Florida!: GetOutdoorsFlorida.org Children’s Week: ChildrensWeek.org Children & Nature Network: ChildrenandNature.org

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Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: MyFWC.com Florida State Parks: FloridaStateParks.org Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network: fyccn.org Head Start Body Start: aahperd.org/HeadStartBodyStart Let’s Move – Outside: letsmove.gov/letsmoveoutside.php Nature Find: NatureFind.com Nature Rocks: NatureRocks.org National Environmental Education Week: EEWeek.org National Wildlife Federation (Green Hour): NWF.org The Youth Go Outside Initiative: YouthGo.gov

Instant licenses are available at MyFWC.com/License or by calling 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA (347-4356). Report violators by calling *FWC or #FWC on your cell, or 1888-404-3922. Visit MyFWC.com/Fishing/Updates for more Fish Busters’ columns.

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