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Family Values

family-outsideAfter a winter of indoor togetherness, Spring and Summer beg for outdoor exploration. There is nothing quite like an outdoor adventure for the entire family. Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, America's oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, says, "Instead of exploring the world, kids are chaperoned from school to soccer field to music lessons and home again; they never have a chance to find the hole behind the log where they can hide their special stuff, or the damp spot in the meadow where the butterflies swarm in the summer. There probably isn't a log or meadow within walking distance anyway." Mr. Pope goes on to express that playing outside, is "The Forgotten Family Value."

Fredericksburg Parent & Family MomStops "Outdoors Together"

Kenmore Park: picnic, playground, tennis, Frisbee, wiffle ball, beach ball, bubbles, hula hoop, football, Nerf toys, Silly String, paddle ball, freeze tag, book reading, some rock climbing with supervision, basketball, etc.

Canal Path – walking, dog walking, bike riding

City Dock – fishing, dog walking, chat with local fisherman, kayaking, canoeing, powerboating

Alum Springs Park: picnic area, playground, good hiking trails, collect & identify insects, rock skipping in creek, bridge across stream, paper boat racing downstream, crafting on picnic tables, or, with proper supervision, feet dangling in stream.

Battlefield Park (Lafayette Blvd.) – hiking to hilltop to observe the city, plant identification, insect/animals identification, snack at hilltop, biking, hiking, running, walking.

Trench Hill (UMW): great sledding spot, great look out point for the city, historical chats, reveries of future, kite flying, star gazing, or photo shoot opportunities.

YMCA Water Park: Summer day of fun in the sun and water.

Virginia Outdoor Center: tubing down the river, kayaking, canoeing.

Lake Anna State Park: camping, beach area, boating, swimming, fishing, picnicking.

Loriella Park: ball fields, tennis, playground, public swimming, Frisbee golf.

Brooks Park: skate park, ball fields

Curtis Park: skate park, lake, public swimming, playground.

How many kids today get to meander through the woods, dig with sticks, chase birds or squirrels, dig up worms, collect leaves, or explore with only their imaginations? Our fast paced urban society has eliminated the opportunities for the majority of American children to engage in such activities. Parents, however, can intervene and provide these outlets; lungs full of fresh air, faces kissed with sunshine, physical exertion and exhaustion, grass stains, dirt between fingers, firefly chases, duck feeding, fishing, digging for buried treasure, watching clouds, making forts, tuning in to hear birds sing, crickets chirp, frogs croak, and wind blown hair. These are some experiences families should engage in regularly. There is no substitute for playing outdoors together, where imaginations can soar and exploration can stimulate and sharpen minds.

Time for a Blast to the Past

Most parents experienced these freedoms in nature as children. Statistics show that children age 3 to 12 spend on average 30 minutes per week playing outdoors. The National Wildlife Federation's education department recommends that kids get one "green hour" -- unstructured play in a green outdoor space -- each day. There is an obvious disparity in the desired time to benefit children and the actual time children experience. The NWF recommends starting with five or ten minutes if outdoor time is new to families and building up to the goal of one hour per day. For more information, go to their website at where families can find weekly tips and suggestions from parents and pros for getting parents and kids excited about nature. ( accessed Feb. 2011)

"In wilderness I sense the miracle of life, and behind it our scientific accomplishments fade to trivia." - Charles A. Lindbergh

A myriad of studies and authors enumerate the benefits of outdoor play to children. Benefits are both physical and emotional. "When kids play outside, they are more physically active and vigorous in their movements," says Nancy Wells, Ph.D., an environmental psychologist at Cornell University. "Children are likely to burn more calories," notes Rae Pica, author of A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity, and Free Time Create a Successful Child. Additionally, says Pica, "Outside light triggers the synthesis of vitamin D and stimulates the pineal gland, the part of the brain that helps regulate the biological clock and is vital to the immune system." The psychological benefits may be even more significant. In a series of recent studies, Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances E. Kuo of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that contact with nature improved attention spans and self-control in kids, including those diagnosed with ADHD. Spending time outside may also boost your child's academic performance. "In schools that have outdoor classrooms or focus on outdoor education, testing improves across the board," says Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv says, "Kids who spend time in nature also tend to play more creatively and handle stress more effectively." Frances Kuo, director of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illimois and a mom observes, "It appears that nature fosters a kind of gentle absorption -- almost a meditative quality -- that seems to be deeply rejuvenating." (, accessed Feb. 2011)

Outdoor time at Home Ideas

Plant flowers
Spread mulch
Build a tent and eat in the great outdoors
Go for a walk
Shoot hoops or play catch
Play hide and seek
Catch Fireflies
Car/Dog/Doll/Bike Wash
Outdoor Fire w/ roasted marshmallows or S'Mores
Flashlight tag
Flashlight walk
Dinner on the deck
Evening of games on the deck or in the yard
Candlelight story after dark
Water balloons/squirt gun contests
Kid's Night to choose an outside activity
Make a Fort

The Vitamin D Dilemma

In addition, according to an August 2009 report, 70 percent of American children are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is important for the body to absorb calcium, and also to control the rennin and protein associated with blood pressure levels. It is almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from foods alone, but when children spend modest amounts of time in the sunshine, it helps their bodies make the vitamin D they need to develop healthy bones and reduces their future risks of conditions, such as: heart disease and high blood pressure." (, accessed Feb. 2011) Outdoor play also enhances the overall health of children by building small and large muscles, strengthening bones, and conditioning the lungs. Running, jumping, climbing, bike riding, yelling, and blowing off steam can also lead to better sleep and improved behavior.

Social Benefits of Outdoor Play

Outdoor play has social benefits, as well. Children can practice and hone the skills of imaginative play, problem solving, cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. The outdoors is the virtual "Mecca of Sensory Learning" which is the "most powerful form of learning in young children," according to Sheila Milnes, at the Penn State, Better Kid Care Program. (, accessed Feb. 2011) Nature teaches children through all the senses; sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell which increases memory.

"Great things are done when men and mountains meet. This is not done by jostling in the street." ~William Blake

The benefits of outdoor play do not eliminate tightly packed family calendars, so how can parent find time to spend with their family outdoors? Laura Ramirez award-winning author on parenting, in her article, Giving Your Children the Gift of Time emphasizes, "The solution to this is simple: make a decision that family matters. Once you have made family your priority, it is fairly easy to weed out the activities that take up too much time. Create parenting plans that serve the interests of the entire family. As parents, we have to make hard choices. This means saying "no" more often to the people and activities that are not central to our lives. As always, it is a balancing act but the more we choose, the clearer our priorities become. In our fast-paced society, we often forget that relationships take care and time." (, accessed Feb. 2011) not forget to turn cell phones/pagers off and leave electronic/tech devises at home when having family together time. Parents need to fully engaged for effective togetherness with their children...and as our children become teens we want them to realize the importance of leaving the "tech world" for periods of time.

The natural thing is to continue on the same old path but now is the time to take that "path less traveled." Choose the "nature" thing and get out of the house together. Venture into the wild, seek new exploration, and let nature become a part of family togetherness. Reinstitute this forgotten family value.

Elaine Stone, mother of three, lives in Spotsylvania. Write: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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Pouches' Community Corner

Trains, Planes and Automobiles Kids' Race Series


From a small beginning, Cathy Weise of the Ron Rosner YMCA has developed an ambitious three-race series for kids for this summer, with the help of The Great Train Race, Shannon Airport, Dominion Raceway & Entertainment, the Fredericksburg Area Service League and Race Timing Unlimited.

Great Train Race Director Jennifer Taylor was one of the first on board.