Have we, as a culture, replaced ‘green time’ with ‘screen time’? Sure, we hear a lot about the threats of climate change, and we are asked to save the rainforest and various endangered animals, but do we experience nature in our actual lives? Or has nature almost become an abstraction to us? How does this shift away from the natural world impact us? Does it impact us?
The Green Hour by Todd Christopher explores the impact of our disconnect with the natural world, and how providing one ‘green hour’ per day can benefit children and families. (This book is really geared to families with children, but I’d argue that it is good for all of us to remain connected to nature.)
Before getting into the impact described by Christopher, I’d like to take a little trip back in time. Back to my childhood. I can’t even remember a time in my childhood when I didn’t want to play outside most of the time. My early memories include: riding tricycle then bicycle, playing in my sandbox, playing on my swing set (my absolute favorite childhood toy!), trying to catch the leaves as they fell from trees (that is harder than you might think), going swimming and fishing whenever the opportunity presented itself, collecting rocks, picking dandelions, looking for constellations – more things than I could possibly remember and list here. Being outside was just my natural inclination as a child, and I think I was in the norm. There were always other kids outside, at least for the portion of my childhood when I lived in town. When I lived in the country, I was still outside much of the time, but I couldn’t vouch for the other kids as they weren’t near enough to encounter them in the course of my outside play. I’d be willing to bet they were playing outside, too, though.
Fast forward to today. I don’t know if it’s because people are more aware of potential risks and prefer to keep their kids safely at home, if people are too busy to simply be playing outside, if they prefer indoor pursuits, a combination of these or other reasons entirely. At any rate, it doesn’t seem that kids are spending their days playing outside as much as they once did. Christopher cites the Kaiser Family Foundations’s study Generation M: Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds, which found that young people today spend an average of 5 hours and 43 minutes per day with electronic screen media. No wonder they aren’t outside. When would they find the time?!
Another report that Christopher cites, Media and Child and Adolescent Health, demonstrates a strong correlation between greater media exposure and long-term negative effects on the health of children and teens. The outcomes include increases in childhood obesity, early sexual behavior, substance use and lower academic achievement.
So, what does ‘green time’ have to do with it? Evidence suggests that more time spent playing outdoors leads to greater physical fitness, attention, concentration, and creativity.
I enjoyed reading this book. It doesn’t hurt that I came into it as someone who already felt that playing outside is valuable. But like I said, for me it just felt right. It was interesting to read about studies that supported my gut feeling with evidence of the benefits of spending time outside and connecting to nature.
Christopher proposes claiming a ‘green hour’ each day, a time to reconnect to the natural world. It can be anything from playing in the backyard to hiking at a nature preserve to journaling the phases of the moon. To stop and smell the roses, literally, along with noticing all the other things in our natural world to which we often fail to give our attention.
I’ve already mentioned that I already think it is valuable to spend time outdoors. Do you think I’ve got this ‘green hour’ thing down pat? Well, I have some definite room for improvement. This is not difficult to do in the summer months, but I must admit, we sometimes go days without playing outside in the winter. I have all good intentions to play outside everyday, at least for a little while, with the exception of days when there are dangerous weather conditions. We get really excited to play outside when there has been a new snowfall, but it’s really not that exciting to play outside when it is cold and there is little or no snow to play in. It’s just unpleasant as far as I’m concerned.
You will find us doing a lot of crafty things in the winter to help pass the time that we might have been outside. I know we could spend more time outside, though. Maybe break it into 30 minutes at a time or even 20 minutes at a time if it’s quite cold.
Reading The Green Hour has given me renewed enthusiasm to make this a priority, even in the winter. In addition to the assertions about the benefits of ‘green time,’ this book is full of fun ideas for things to do outside with kids. I recommend it. I should add, my daughter hovered around me when I was reading it, looking for opportunities to take it and read it herself. She was so happy when I finished, because then I passed it to her to read as she desires. She no longer has to worry about sharing it with me. She’s having a great time reading through all the fun ideas.
Do you like to spend time outside? Do you think there’s anything to these claims that it is good for us to maintain a connection to nature?