Published on 04/28/97

Parents: Get Kids Out of the House

Summer's coming, parents. What are you going to do with the kids?

"Get them out of the house," said Diane Davies, a 4-H environmental education specialist with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

But Davies isn't thinking of your peace of mind. She's concerned about how your children connect with the world of nature. Children are naturally curious about the out-of-doors. But at some point, their interests switch to school, friends, TV and music.

"In the traditional school setting and in their more urbanized lifestyle, children are unlearning their connection to the environment," Davies said.

"In summer, as in any season, children need to get involved and learn about the environment around them," she said. "Most children have lost their relationship with the land.

"In the past," she said, "many children grew up on the farm. They understood natural resources, where their food came from, they enjoyed hunting and fishing. Today, children lack that connection with the natural world."

But help is on the way.

If you don't see your place in nature, you can learn how you fit in, Davies said. The first step is out the front door.

Just get your children to play outdoors. Sit in the sand on the beach. Show them a snail or let them hold a fish, she said. Visit a farm. Go to summer camp.

Davies encourages parents to give children a pet -- and the responsibility that goes with it.

"They need to care about something other than themselves," she said. "They need to be responsible for another living thing."

"Parents need to build a wide base of experience for their children," Davies said. "To connect to the land, they need to understand their place in it. They need to see the big picture."

Luckily, the world is full of excellent ways for children to explore nature. The field of environmental education is booming.

In Georgia, the 4-H Environmental Education program will welcome nearly 45,000 children to four 4-H centers during the 1996-97 school year. The classes bring children out of walled classrooms and into nature's classroom to study biology, science, history and other subjects.

"We get children into the program who have never seen a sky full of stars before," Davies said. "They've never walked in the woods at night or seen the ocean. They've never understood life in these terms."

Youngsters can also visit science centers designed to introduce them to life sciences and other topics. The Natural History Museum at the Rock Eagle 4-H Center near Eatonton has two floors of exhibits and classrooms to stimulate children's imagination and help them connect with nature.

The 4-H camping season will bring thousands of children back to nature this summer.

"These are full study experiences," Davies said. "But just walking out the front door is a great way for children to get started learning about the environment. Just get them out of the house."