For more than a year now, representatives from a number of organizations in Northern Michigan have been gathering to figure out the best way to address some alarming trends with our youth that seem to be strongly linked to less time spent outdoors.

Now, a local initiative based on the national No Child Left Inside movement is ready to launch the first phase of its action plan. Known as Getting Kids Outdoors: Emmet County, the mission of this coalition is “to build a community that embraces and promotes getting kids outdoors as part of a healthy lifestyle.” Little Traverse Conservancy—a non-profit land trust based in Harbor Springs—is taking a supportive role in the coalition. Other partners include representatives from many sectors of the community including:

  • Emmet County Planning, Zoning, and Construction Resources
  • Petoskey Public Schools
  • Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians
  • MSU Extension-Emmet County
  • North Country Kids
  • Northern Michigan Regional Hospital
  • North Country Trail Association
  • Raven Hill Discovery Center
  • The Outfitter
  • Little Traverse Primary Care
  • other area family practices and pediatricians

“Many of us have been concerned about how the draw of abundant technology and lack of unstructured play time outside are negatively affecting children,” said Molly Ames Baker, the volunteer chair for Getting Kids Outdoors: Emmet County. “We feel that every child in Emmet County should have access, opportunities, and encouragement to get outdoors and explore. By developing a coordinated, communitywide effort, we hope to raise awareness and provide resources so that parents, teachers, doctors and others can address ‘nature deficit’ with a simple solution: get kids to ‘Go outside and play!’”

To those already involved in and committed to the care and enjoyment of our natural world, it may be difficult to believe or understand the need to create a “movement” to do what feels like common sense. Yet the data are disturbing. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that the average American child spends 44.5 hours per week—more than 6 hours a day — plugged into electronic media.

The pull is strong. In the latest version of its dictionary for schoolchildren, Oxford University Press cut nature terms such as heron, magpie, otter, acorn, clover, ivy, sycamore, willow, and blackberry. In their place, the university publishing house substituted more modern terms, like the electronic Blackberry, blog, MP3 player, voicemail, and broadband. But the research is showing how detrimental these trends can be.

A 2003 study by Nancy Wells at Cornell University found that even a view of nature—green plants and vistas—helps reduce anxiety among highly stressed children.