Restoring kids' connection to the great outdoors
By SUKI REED
SPECIAL TO THE OC REGISTER
"The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses."
— Richard Louv, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder"
Remember playing outside as a kid – climbing trees, building forts, running in an open field?
These will not be the memories of most children growing up today, who spend hours playing video games, tapping out text messages, and getting most of their exercise through organized sports. The Orange County Hiking Club is helping in-crisis kids get outdoors through its Kids in Need of Nature program.
Mitch Barrie, a nature guide for the Kids in Need of Nature program and a Costa Mesa small business owner, has lead groups of local kids on hikes, and he said he enjoys, "surprising them with landscapes they have never seen before." Recently he took a group of kids to the "Bridge to Nowhere" in the San Gabriel Mountains where the teens played for hours in a stream. "These kids have minimal expectations," Barrie said. "And they are so appreciative and excited by cliffs, valleys, waterfalls and rivers that they didn't know existed."
Mandy Schwartz, program director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) said the hikes also provide kids with good role models. "This fills a hole in their hearts that is so deep," she said. "When they get undivided attention from a group of adults it makes a huge difference. It is so simple, but so profound." The hikes help shape and prepare the kids "for the future and develops perseverance, determination, and appreciation for nature. Spending time in nature is an important component of becoming a well rounded person."
Ivis Torres, program director for Save Our Youth (SOY) in Costa Mesa said that through the OC Hiking Club's program, she is seeing increased confidence, ability and enthusiasm in kids. This year, Torres took a group of SOY girls up Mt. Whitney. "The girls came back feeling that they were able to overcome anything, she said."...When they make it to the summit, they feel they can do anything – they are developing life skills."
Nancy Wells from Cornell University has discovered that children, who live closer to and spend more time in nature, show increased cognitive development. It is by far the cheapest form of mental health.
Since early 2009, the OC Hiking club has been taking in-crisis kids on nature hikes and to outdoor events. Recently the club has been awarded a grant from Disney to further expand its Kids in Need of Nature Program. My own experience has shown me that – we can all benefit from time in nature, but children may suffer the most without it.
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