Nature Symposium Wants To Get Kids To Play Outside

Posted on August 26, 2014

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Ben is back to report on a Nature Symposium set for next month in Portland, OR. A Portland mom has been working with the City of Portland and Metro, the regional government, to raise awareness about the need for kids to play more. The symposium caps a five day schedule of events all about encouraging kids to go outside and play. 

project wild thing

An edited version of this article is set to appear on the Metro News website.

It all started with a kid not wanting to go back to school. The end of summer was approaching and Jordan Gutierrez was upset that he had to return to the classroom. But his protest was more than just the normal back to school malaise.

playing tagApril Gutierrez did some digging and found out that a new principal had come to her son’s school since they had moved to the district, and had eliminated potentially dangerous recess activities. The principal went as far as banning tag.

“When I heard that they banned the game of tag during recess, I wanted to do some research and find out if it was actually dangerous,” Gutierrez said.

She expected to find studies about the chances of injury from falling or being pushed that are associated with traditional recess games like tag. But instead she found the opposite – she found study after study explaining the need for kids to play more not less.

play englandMany of the resources came from Play England and effort by the UK government to encourage kids to play, Gutierrez lists the studies on her website.

Gutierrez wanted to share what she had found, but the school was unreceptive.

“I want the story to get out there that our children are in crisis and we need to have a little common sense and let them play outside,” Gutierrez said.Through her research Gutierrez found out about a documentary film, Project Wild Thing, that is attempting to spread the message that kids need to spend less time indoors and more time in nature playing, like kids.

project_wild_thing_flyer_web_0So she started with a screening of the documentary and worked with Portland Parks & Recreation to play it at a Movies in the Park night on Sept. 13. Bringing the film’s director, David Bond, was a dream, but the $5,000 price tag was too steep.

Then David Chen, the producer of Portland Movies in the Park, told her they got a big donation from the sustainable design firm Green Hammer – and they were halfway to the goal. Gutierrez then worked tirelessly to raise the rest of the money and bring in sponsors. The effort turned the screening into a five-day extravaganza of films, games and a nature symposium.

That’s when Metro got involved, the regional government is hosting the “Regional Nature, Play and Education Symposium” on Sept. 15. The symposium is targeted at policy makers, administrators and educators. Working together was a natural fit because of Metro’s efforts to develop natural play areas around the Portland region.

“The workshop will be about connecting children with nature,” Mark Davison, Metro parks and natural areas planning manager, said in an email. “Nature play provides the means to re-establish a child’s personal connection with nature, rebuilding the foundation for future outdoor recreation participation.”

The hope is that kids who enjoy nature and play in it will build a lifelong love of nature.

“We want to instill an awareness of nature that will hopefully result in a future passion for nature stewardship,” Davison said.

david bondThe symposium will feature comments from Davison, as well as the director Bond and Rod Wojtanik, who works with local communities to design and develop play areas. There will also be several panels that will focus on Oregon examples of nature-based play.  Sessions in the afternoon feature Dr. Peter Mortola and Dr. Yong Zhao, two scholars on psychology and education.

“The purpose of the symposium is to lay out much of what I’ve learned in the last year,” Gutierrez said. “What’s the definition of play, why do kids need it and why it’s being pulled away?”

The symposium starts at 9:00 am on Sept. 15 and takes place at the Oregon Zoo. Those interested can register on Metro’s website for $15, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner.

get into natureAfter all her research and work on the importance of play for kids Gutierrez is even more passionate than when she started out.

“The social relationships from playing as a kid, those imaginary times where we talked and dreamed about our futures is what made us who we are,” Gutierrez said. “Our children don’t get that, they are being deprived both physically and socially.”

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