Policy: Brook Learning

By Ben Whitford

The parental demand to “go out and play” seems to be losing its punch. These days, you’re more likely to find kids slumped in front of Xboxes than riding bikes or climbing trees. Researchers estimate that the average child spends more than six hours a day staring at a TV or computer screen and barely half an hour outdoors. Congress may have the cure: Legislators are putting the finishing touches on the No Child Left Inside Act, which would provide $500 million over five years for programs designed to rekindle kids’ enthusiasm for nature. Most of the dough will fund training programs that help teachers plan field trips and outdoor classes to enhance science, math, and English skills.

Getting kids out of the classroom could pay big dividends. Studies show that children who spend time outside get better grades and are less likely to suffer from obesity and hyperactivity disorders. “Kids can get information from Animal Planet,” says author Richard Louv, whose 2005 bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, helped inspire the legislation. “What they can’t get is that immersive experience of being outdoors.”

The bill isn’t likely to pass until lawmakers revisit education reform after the November elections. Still, insiders say the bill’s focus on nature education—rather than more controversial issues like conservation and climate change—has helped it win bipartisan support. “We aren’t trying to train tree huggers,” says Brian Day, executive director of the North American Association for Environmental Education, a member of the coalition that drafted the legislation. “We just want to get kids outdoors again, whether it’s to teach preschoolers about the wonder of nature or to teach high schoolers about global warming and pollution.”  

Issue 25

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