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Celebrate Earth Day, explore Florida

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By The Staff

On a glorious sunny Florida day this past weekend, as a gentle breeze swayed the pines and a swallow-tailed kite glided overhead, I watched my seven-year-old son and his close friend ignore me at every opportunity. We were visiting a Nature Conservancy preserve and I was telling them, in my best child-friendly professorial voice, all about the importance to the ecosystem of gopher tortoise burrows and how prescribed fire had prepared the land for the reintroduction of red-cockaded woodpeckers. At least they were polite as they ran from tree to rock to stick, my words passing through their ears almost unnoticed. Watching them, it dawned on me that just being outdoors is the lesson. No teaching required. Kids learn from the act of discovering nature, the experience, not the words. And they just aren’t getting enough opportunity to have that experience today.

Television and computers are big factors, but air conditioning deserves some of the blame too, according to Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. “Not that long ago, the sound track of a young person’s days and nights was composed largely of the notes of nature,” he writes. In 1910, only 12 percent of housing had air conditioning and people “threw open their sash windows and let in the night air and the sound of wind in leaves.” Half of all baby boomers grew up with air-conditioned homes and by 2001 78 percent of homes were sealed and cooled. I imagine the Florida percentage of air-conditioned homes is much higher. While it is easy to let our senses be “electrified,” as Louv says, we owe it to our children to enlighten them with nature.

Let’s recognize Earth Day this weekend by getting outside and exploring all that Florida has to offer. Florida has an amazing collection of state parks. In addition to helping acquire the land for many of these parks, The Nature Conservancy has its own preserves across the state as well. Florida’s water management districts have been setting aside wonderful conservation lands for years. Our counties and cities have provided us with numerous parks and are building their networks annually, often using matching money from Florida Forever, the nation’s top land conservation program.

The Nature Conservancy invites you this year to share your outdoor adventures by uploading your photos to our Web site (http://my.nature.org/earthday/), describing your adventures via Facebook and leaving tips for other visitors. We are also co-sponsoring ecoAmerica’s “Leave No Child Inside” campaign, urging 60 million households with young children to make their kids healthier, happier and smarter by getting out into nature. Inspired by Louv’s study, the program aims to get the word out that the absence of nature in children’s lives is contributing to disturbing trends: obesity, attention disorders and depression.

We often talk about preserving nature for future generations. But preserving nature benefits us today, too. This Earth Day, take your kids or your grandkids out to a park or preserve and let them be kids. Experience the joy of being ignored.