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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

EDITORIAL: Isn’t It Time to Rediscover the Great Outdoors?


My granddaughter Samantha recently turned seven years old and, while I am usually the ‍one to jockey for status as her favorite Apricot Werther’s candy supplier, this year, I opted for a butterfly catcher. Samantha was pleasant and thanked me for the gift, but I can honestly say she expressed a lot more excitement in her voice while playing that new-fangled video game her‍ Dad bought her ⁣than the prospect‍ of exploring her ⁣own backyard with her new net. A disheartening thing to watch, I tell ya.

I mean, is it just me or have‌ kids totally⁣ lost interest in the great outdoors? ⁢It feels ⁢like their lives are completely entwined ⁤with screens, computers,⁣ TVs, tablets and phones, like‍ an unwieldy⁣ mass of power cables and Wi-Fi signals. The closest they get to nature ⁢is​ through⁢ virtual reality ⁤headsets and Hollywood action movies. ⁢Don’t get me ‍wrong, I’m no technophobe. But back ‍in my day,‍ our reality was virtual enough.

I’ve⁢ lived in Schenectady, NY my whole life — and yes, that’s‍ a bit over half a century. And when I see a clear summer’s day, it harks ⁤back to ⁤those sunny childhood afternoons spent with friends in Central Park. ‍We would race by the Rose Garden and then ​stop to play catch near the ⁢monumental statue of Lawrence the Indian. Or those winter evenings ⁢skating‍ on the lake, and the valuable lessons they taught ⁤us:‍ patience, precision, and notably survival⁤ — fall through the ice and⁣ you’d be in for a chilly reminder!

But it’s not just nostalgia that pines for those‍ halcyon ‌days.⁤ It’s the⁣ missed ⁢opportunity. Studies have shown ⁤that outdoor play significantly improves ⁢children’s physical, cognitive and social development. According to a report ⁣from the⁢ American Academy ​of ​Pediatrics, play is a critical part ⁣of children’s healthy development. It strengthens imagination and creativity, builds resilience, helps kids learn problem-solving ​skills, and reduces stress.

Do you remember how we used to build forts out of rocks and sticks? We became architects, lords of our little kingdoms. Use a bit of imagination and that wide oak ​tree suddenly becomes an ancient creature from a different realm. These adventures⁤ helped ‍us‍ learn to navigate the world in a raw and kinetic way.

Even the simple act of walking in the woods can teach a child about spatial orientation and exercise their budding problem-solving skills. ⁢Look, there’s a thorny bush. ​Do you charge​ through it, or do you find​ a way around? And do you remember that ‍looming cliff face near Thompson’s Lake where we’d challenge ourselves in daring feats of climbing,⁢ testing stamina and determination before we ⁢even understood what these ⁤words ⁣meant?

Sadly not anymore. It’s all virtual battles and quests in a digital world. Are the ‍kids of‍ today, sitting in their dimly lit rooms, tapping away at buttons, ‍experiencing the same‍ developmental⁢ strides we did in our⁤ physical exploration of the outdoors?⁣ I find that hard to believe.

Schenectady today has more green spaces than it had​ when I was kid. In ⁣fact, ⁢according ⁤to the ⁣Trust for Public Land,‌ Schenectady’s parkland as a percentage of city area is significantly more than​ the national median for cities. Yet, kids are spending as little as half ⁢the time their parents did ‍playing in the great outdoors.

Now, I’m not ​blaming parents. We’re all just‌ trying to wade through the breakneck​ speed of modernity. ‍It’s⁢ hard to‍ keep up. But the great outdoors‌ isn’t going​ anywhere! It will always be ⁣ready for us. Ready to teach‌ us, challenge us, ​revive ⁣us,⁤ and ‌heal us. Isn’t⁢ it‌ about time we rediscover the great outdoors?

We need our children ‌to understand that the natural⁣ world needs attention, respect, love, and nurturing, not just for its ‍survival, but ours as well. So how about this? Next ​time you see a ⁣bright ‌sunny day, close the⁣ laptop,​ lock away the cell phone and‌ take⁤ your kids to one of Schenectady’s​ pristine ⁢parks. Who⁤ knows, you yourself might re-discover the⁣ recharging power and beauty of the great outdoors.

And to sweeten the pot, I’ll make you a deal: anyone runs into me at Central Park, I’ve got a pocket⁤ full⁤ of butterscotch Werther’s I’m ‌willing‍ to share.​ For I believe that a walk‍ in ⁣the park, a story shared⁢ on a park bench, does wonders more ⁣than numerous hours of solitary digital play. So, how about it? Shall we meet at the park then?

Brian McCarthy
Brian McCarthy
I'm Brian McCarthy! At your service to offer traditionally informed perspective on today's issues. Some call it out of touch; I call it time-honored wisdom.
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