Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


From the Pen of Robert L. Cook

A group of highly educated child psychologists or something like that up in Chicago recently completed their in-depth research study and concluded that children need “unstructured free-time to play.” No kidding! Remember when Mom used to tell you kids to get out of the house and not come back until she hollered, and you knew that she meant it? Today’s “baby boomers” used to be regularly sent to the backyard, or even better, to the nearby woods with the simple instruction, “You kids go play and stay out of trouble, and don’t come back here whining and tattle-taling on each other.” Ah … those were the days! Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has confirmed what Mom knew all along.

Until just recently I really hadn’t stopped to think about how much we have changed. I did not realize how far from those wonderful days we had digressed. Now every minute of every day must be planned out, and every activity structured for every kid. Kids don’t have a moment to just be kids and to let their imagination rule the day. We have them all signed up for school, baseball, basketball, scouts, soccer, music lessons, after-school tutorials, karate — and, of course, homework — then shower, off to bed, and up and rolling again at 6 a.m. What if a kid wanted to sail around the world on a pirate ship that day, or just fly a kite?

Then, shock of all shocks. I read Richard Louv’s smash-hit book, Last Child in the Woods … Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Unbelievable! This author has researched and put into words that even I can understand what many of us have been saying for years. As you read it or hear someone talk about it, you say to yourself, “Well sure, so what, I knew that.” Or, if you’re like me, you will say, “I wish I’d said that.”

To paraphrase what the book reviewers wrote: “A good dose of the outdoors may prove to be a powerful antidote for many of the things that ail kids today.” “An absolute must-read for parents.” “A well-researched, well-written book, among the first to give name to an undeniable problem.” “Nature helps kids develop their senses and stimulates their imagination.” “Reconnecting children with nature results in healthier, better-adjusted kids who care for our planet.”

The experts agree: Letting kids play outside in nature is good for them on all levels. Not getting them outside is hurting our kids with obesity, stress and attention problems. For the first time in our history, the life expectancy of our kids is shorter than that of their parents! Think about that one.

How many times have I ended this column with “Get Outdoors”? About two years ago, TPWD kicked off our campaign, “Life’s Better Outside,” to get folks back into nature. Little did we know that Richard Louv was writing a book on much the same topic at the exact same time!

Mom says, “Read the book and get outdoors!” By the way, wouldn’t this book make a great gift for those brats who are now the parents of your grandchildren? Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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