Children need activity, not just technology
By Tony Kaufman
Date: May 6, 2007 Kalamazoo Gazette

Portage residents' recent decision to maintain Waylee Elementary as a neighborhood school has presented the community with an opportunity to examine the value guiding our educational system.

The push for new buildings and more computers as tools to prepare children for a mature adulthood and create academic excellence is not supported by current research. More outdoor education, physical activity, hands-on experiences and unstructured play time are, however, being proven essential. As it turns out, these experiences are at the foundation of how many children once learned to become adults when a great deal of our nation's families lived on family farms.

Richard Louv's book, "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder," and a report from The American Academy of Pediatrics as well as many other individuals who work closely with early childhood education have presented research supporting these ideas. All show how environmentally-based education dramatically improves standardized test scores, grade point averages, skills in problem solving, critical thinking, decision making and creates happier kids.

Construction new buildings after tearing down structures that simply need better maintenance via more careful handling of funds already available is no answer to our current economic situation. In fact, it has been shown that sanitized buildings outfitted with ever increasingly complex computer technology result in children suffering attention deficit disorders, obesity, depression, loneliness, higher levels of aggression, lower creativity, atrophy of the senses and an inability to relate to people and the world around them.

Indeed, unstructured play in more natural environments has proven far better strategy toward helping children discover their own passions and better adjust to a variety of different situations. In short, we should pay greater attention to the importance of lessons children once learned in rural communities where they were predominantly raised in families with a wide range of different-aged adults spending extended periods of time working and playing outdoors. In this setting, children made important contributions including gardening, tending animals, cooking, washing and hanging clothes, and caring for siblings, all of which helped build a strong sense of confidence.

Through television, films and video games, families are more likely to participate in life as spectators or consumers of entertainment or as anxiety driven beings trying to keep up with an overloaded agenda. Ideas about problem solving and coping with life are learned from larger than life heroes who plunge through experiences with arrogance, violence and magic thus creating problems that are eventually manifested in the actual violence so often seen the words and actions of some of today's children who have turned away from inadequate adult connections toward mimicking those who know no more than themselves.

School board members, parents, as well as all of us within this community should work toward encouraging an increased exposure to real-life experiences, especially those that involve interactions with the natural environment that sustain all of the earth's life forms.

Tony Kaufman resides in Pavilion Township