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Natural Awakenings Milwaukee

Reconnecting with Nature: Outdoor Play Is Vital for Kids

Jul 25, 2011 11:31PM ● By Gerry Slater

Most parents would agree that they want happy, creative, intelligent, well-adjusted kids. Although no magic formula exists, encouraging children to go outside to play, ideally in nature-rich settings, is a simple and inexpensive way to stimulate these attributes, according to best-selling author Richard Louv.

Although early childhood educators, play theorists, naturalists and environmental educators have touted such concepts for years, Louv’s 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, reached a much broader audience and helped launch the Child and Nature Network, which compiles research about the relationship between children and nature and has spawned the development of No Child Left Inside groups throughout the country.

Louv stopped in Milwaukee on a recent tour promoting his latest book, The Nature Principle, in which he shares research that underscores how reconnecting with nature benefits us all. He discussed a recent trend of families joining together to take their children to nearby natural settings, creating a socially healthy, family experience. Outdoor spaces that are thoughtfully planned for children can help them develop healthy bodies, stimulate creativity, nurture a natural sense of wonder, build self-esteem and provide hours of fun.

The Milwaukee area has wonderful parks and outdoor programs offered by area organizations and schools (see the accompanying “Outdoor Resources for Kids”). A few schools have developed workshops through which some requirements of the Wisconsin Early Learning Standards can be satisfied outdoors.

Initiated by two Milwaukee area residents, the Wisconsin chapter of the World Forum’s Nature Action Collaborative for Children (WiNACC; 414-227-3223) is a consortium of agencies and individuals committed to reconnecting children with the natural world by making developmentally appropriate nature education an enriching part of their daily lives. One of 70 international team affiliates whose mission is to connect 2 million children with nature during the next two years, WiNACC welcomes allies and collaborators.

Perhaps the best and simplest way to nurture well-adjusted kids and develop healthy, intelligent leaders of the future is through active play in natural settings, here and now.

Gerry Slater has more than 30 years experience designing play and learning spaces for children. He currently serves from Design4Kids, the Natural Playscape Alliance and the Wisconsin Nature Action Collaborative for Children.


 Outdoor Resources for Kids

Climbing Tree Child Care and Family Education Center
A Waldorf-inspired center
3147 Main Street, East Troy 53120

LifeWays Early Childhood Center
Childcare and preschool that emphasizes creative, outdoor play
3224 North Gordon Place, Milwaukee 53212

Neighborhood House of Milwaukee
Outdoor Environmental Education (OEE) programs at a variety of venues

Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
Nature Preschool
1111 East Brown Deer Road, Milwaukee 53217

University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Children’s Center
2114 East Kenwood Boulevard, Milwaukee 53201

Urban Ecology Center
• Riverside Park
1500 East Park Place, Milwaukee 53211
• Washington Park
1859 North 40th Street, Milwaukee 53208

Wehr Nature Center
Whitnall Park
9701 West College Avenue, Franklin 53132

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