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Recent studies have shown that many of us are suffering a lack of exposure to the great outdoors and children even more so. Increasing evidence demonstrates the many benefits of nature on children's psychological and physical well-being, including reduced stress, greater physical health, more creativity and improved concentration.
Beyond the health and cognitive benefits children gain from unstructured play outdoors, nature also provides them with a sense of wonder and a deeper understanding of our responsibility to take care of the Earth, says Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit-Disorder". Yet, research shows nature is the last place you'll find children these days.
Here are ten reasons provided by the National Wildlife Federation why parents should care about this nature deficit:
Summer is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors and the US National Parks and Recreation areas provides an opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to get outside. Every single state has one or more National Parks, Forests, Monuments or Recreation areas. There is a little something for everyone.
Geology is the science comprising the study of Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change.
Our National Park system features incredible examples of geology including: the water sculptured depths of Grand Canyon, the greatest density of arches in the world in Arches National Park, the world's largest and most colorful collections of petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park, and over half of the known geysers in the world in Yellowstone National Park.
Stories of America’s diverse places and people are found across the landscapes of our nation, in more than 400 national parks, in National Heritage Areas, along historic trails and waterways, and in every neighborhood.
National Park Service offers an opportunity to discover American history in all its diversity, from ancient archeological places featuring ancient dwellings and petroglyphs, to the homes of authors, poets and Presidents to battlefields.
Evidence of past and present glaciation can be found across our national parks. But if you want to see these magnificent wonders you better hurry because we’re losing them fast! Find a glacier.
There is no better way to experience the great outdoors than with an overnight or multi-night camping trip. Accommodations vary from primitive backpacking sites with no water to RV spots with water and electrical hook-up to tent cabins.
Go Hiking or Backpacking
National Parks provide nearly limitless opportunities for hiking and backpacking across all types of terrains, climate and geology. Options range from easy 1/10 mile strolls easily accessed by car that look out over towering vistas, to the 2200 mile Appalachian Trail or the 2663 mile Pacific Crest Trail that traverse through multiple states.
Caves and karst features occur in 120 parks in all regions of the National Park System and represent important sources of underground water. The longest recorded cave system in the world is at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Paddle a Waterway
Rivers are magical places and are the artery of our country. There are opportunities to paddle, swim, fish and observe wildlife.
Our National Parks have an abundance and incredible diversity of wildlife to view (at a safe distance of course), photograph or sketch.
Visit a Hot Spring or Geothermal Area
These unusual areas are directly tapping the heat of the earth’s core and bringing it to the surface.
Visit a Volcano
There are many different types of volcanoes, rocks created from eruptions, and landforms that exist because of volcanic processes in the National Parks -- many of them in places you wouldn’t think to find them! Find a volcanic area.
Visit a Wetland
The National Park Service manages more than 16 million acres of wetlands, including salt and freshwater marshes, swamps, peatlands, mudflats, intertidal zones, and similar aquatic areas. Wetlands are great places to watch wildlife of all types.
Visit a Sand Dune
Although water can be found at some of
the nation’s sand dunes for some the beach is really far away! Learn how
sand dunes are formed and more.
Visit a Park and Become a Junior Ranger
The Junior Ranger Program is a popular youth program designed by the National Park Service to promote exploring, learning, and protecting the park while having fun. This free program is designed for school age children between the ages of 6 and 12; however, no child will be denied an opportunity to participate in the program. The Junior Ranger booklet can be picked up at the visitor center and has several age relevant sections that must be completed before the child will be awarded their badge and certificate.
Help is available from any park employee. In addition, parents and grandparents may provide assistance; however, the child should be encouraged to complete the booklet on his/her own while visiting the park.
Become an Amateur Paleontologist
Junior Paleontologists explore the ways that paleontologists work, and the methods and tools they use to understand ancient life. They learn about Earth's history, ancient plants and animals, and changes to past climate and environments.
More than 242 National Park Service areas feature and preserve fossils. It is exciting to find a fossil, but important to protect it. If you find a fossil in a park, leave the fossil where it is, take a photo, and share your discovery with a park ranger.
Junior Paleontologist Activity Book (Download activity Book)
Other places to recreate outdoors
Our national parks have so many things to do: historical exhibits, art, photography, geology, wildlife, walking, hiking, backpacking, paddle sports, camping and more.
Each state also boasts one or more national forests or grassland that provides additional opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking, camping, fishing and more.
National Wildlife Refuge System has more than 560 refuges, 38 wetland areas encompassing 150 million acres of land and water. There is at least one national wildlife refuge in every state and within an hour’s drive of most major metropolitan areas.
National wildlife refuges provide habitat for more than 700 species of birds, 220 species of mammals, 250 reptile and amphibian species and more than 1,000 species of fish. More than 380 threatened or endangered plants or animals are protected on wildlife refuges.
The Bureau of Land Management administers 264 million acres of public lands, located primarily in the 12 Western States, containing natural, historical and cultural attractions.
The Service helps protect a healthy environment for people, fish and wildlife, and helps Americans conserve and enjoy the outdoors and our living treasures. The Service's major responsibilities are for migratory birds, endangered species, certain marine mammals, and freshwater fish.
Updated June 26, 2013
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