A case for binging kids outside in today’s Jackson Hole Daily

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By Sarah Reese, Jackson Hole, Wyoming
May 5, 2011

The results of a statewide survey commissioned by Teton Science Schools show kids need more opportunities to participate in supervised outdoor programs, an official said.

The survey of parents completed last year showed that while 99 percent said playing outside is important for their children’s physical and metal well-being and 65 percent want their kids to spend more time outdoors, 77 percent believe they need to supervise their children’s outdoor play.

The findings from “Our Children and the Outdoors: Wyoming Survey 2010” show children throughout the state spend more time outdoors than kids in other areas of the nation, said Leslie Cook, a faculty member at Teton Science Schools’ Teacher Learning Center.

While the results were a happy surprise, they mean organizations that provide outdoor recreation services must at least maintain their level of programming if not offer more, Cook said.

The findings present opportunities for Teton Science Schools, public schools, Scouting groups and many others, Cook said.

“For us, it just means we need to continue doing the work we’re doing and making sure we’re supporting kids in all corners of the state by providing opportunities in their communities to get outside or by bringing them to Teton Science Schools to have an opportunity here in Jackson Hole,” Cook said.

Nationally, kids spend an average of two hours outdoors each day, Cook said. The flipside is that nationally kids spend about 7.5 hours a day using electronics such as cellphones, computers and televisions, she said.

“Nationally, there’s a sense that kids aren’t spending as much time outside,” Cook said. “Especially in urban areas there’s a feeling that kids spend very little if any time outside.”

While the survey Teton Science Schools commissioned didn’t specifically address how much time Wyoming children spend using electronics, 66 percent of parents listed electronics as a barrier to children spending more time outdoors.

That number beat all other barriers, including homework and time in school (49 percent), playing indoors with friends (42 percent) and the child choosing not to spend more time outdoors (34 percent).

It’s important for kids to spend time outdoors, Cook said.

Kids have said during the Wyoming Youth Congress on Children and Nature at Teton Science Schools the past two years that spending time outdoors lowers their stress level, helps them feel better about themselves and makes it easier to focus on schoolwork.

Spending time outdoors also helps fight childhood obesity and associated health problems such as diabetes, Cook said.

As kids become adults, spending time outdoors can influence their decisions about where to vacation and where to work. Those decisions have implications for the future of Jackson Hole, she said.

The survey included a number of other key findings.

About 62 percent of parents said they spent more time outdoors as children than their children do now.

The top five places where parents feel comfortable letting their children play unsupervised included in the yard of a home (95 percent), indoors at home or a friend’s home (85 percent), in the neighborhood near home (53 percent), at a recreation center or other indoor activity area (45 percent) and an indoor after-school club (44 percent).

The three things that would make spending time outdoors easier included better weather, more friends who like to spend time outside and more money for outdoor activities.