Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Happy NeighborWoods Month! Go Outside and Hug a Tree on Your Street

Didn't know October is National NeighborWoods Month? Neither did I until I stumbled across it online.

This fall I made three separate journeys into the Rockies in larch season and watched their progression from green to gold over the course of a month--Snow Peak via Burstall Pass, Chester Lake and the Elephant Rocks, and Little Arethusa--but barely noticed that the trees in my front yard are losing their leaves. Yet the mature trees that line my street are one of my favorite things in the neighorhood. They make the street feel comfortable, livable, like home. Even on the greyest winter day, their stark naked branches are reminders that spring and green leaves are on their way. And the boys are forever finding things to do with the branches that fall on the ground, many of which are new and innovative ways to get under their father's skin.

It's too late in the season to plant a tree in Calgary to celebrate NeighborWoods Month, but it's never too late to post my favorite urban tree photos and hug spruce trees in my backyard.

Little Arethusa and golden larches under a layer of snow.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Let's Make Getting Outdoors and Active Fun for Our Kids Again

"If a school day is six hours then at least two should be set aside for hiking, biking, skiing, skating, sports or whatever it is that kids like to do and can do. Because that’s the secret, and the antidote to all this gym-oriented, heart-rate-monitor-wearing unsuccessful “fitness” blathering. Teaching kids that activity is fun, that being able to do what you want physically is important, and that it matters both individually to long-term qualify of life and collectively as the cause of massive wastes of tax dollars."

When I read that, I was on a treadmill at the gym. I wasn't wearing a hear-rate monitor, but I may have been holding onto the heart rate sensors. And I was in the new Youth Wellness Center of the Westside Recreation Center in Calgary that's restricted to kids aged 13 to 18 from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. I was getting in shape, but I wasn't having fun.

As I looked around, I realized that I was surrounded by the spandex-clad specimens of the near perfect human forms that Gadd talks about in his article. I am not a near perfect human form, and I don't think I ever have been. I generally carry a few extra pounds around the waist. When I recently lost 20 pounds (although the Divorce Stress Diet is effective, I don't recommend it), I realized I was also carrying a few extra pounds all over my body: cheeks, pecs, legs, back, buttox, everywhere.

For me, working out at the gym isn't an end to itself, whether that's weight control or making sure I look good in a bathing suit. It gives me the basic level of fitness I need to enjoy myself hiking, snowshoeing, scrambling, and doing a bunch of other activities in the mountains. It helps me have fun outside of the gym.

Fun. In the end, that's what it's all about. When I coach my sons' soccer teams, I stress fun because I've seen what happens when soccer isn't fun: kids stop playing. When I take my sons hiking and snowshoeing and I lead kids hikes for my outdoor group, I stress fun because I've seen what happens when hiking isn't fun: the kids don't want to come out any more. Worse, they learn that hiking and active living in general aren't fun, which decreases the chances of them growing up into active adults.

As parents, our job is to help our kids grow up into adults that are healthy physically, emotionally, and intellectually. Yet, as Gadd points out, the focus all too often is on the intellectual, which we abdicate to teachers and schools to look after. Physically? That's up to our kids' phys-ed teachers and sports coaches and doctors. Emotionally? When was the last time you asked your kids how they're feeling and why they feel that way?

Getting kids outside on a regular basis, whether it's hiking in the mountains or running around an urban nature park, and just letting them have fun is one of the most powerful ways we can address their physical, emotional and intellectual health. It gets them active and teaches them that being active is fun. The emotional benefits of being in nature are well documented: stress levels decrease while things like self-confidence and self-awareness increase. And it instills in them an intellectual curiosity about the world around them that they don't get sitting in a classroom. 

If you're reading this, you know what I'm doing to get my two sons outside and active. Leave a comment below to let us know what you're doing, and we can share ideas.

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