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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

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

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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?

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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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