Classroom potatoes get uprooted

Kansas Board of Education will vote in April whether to make certain amounts of time outdoors mandatory for public school children.

This consideration is part of an initiative to break kids out of their technological bubbles. Research shows that kids’ free time is progressively spent in front of a screen, whether it be that of a television, computer, cell phone or iPod. Health and environmental groups want to integrate learning outdoors with core subjects like math, science, English and social studies so students can perform well on standardized tests while still appreciating the environment around them.

With the average American kid spending 900 hours per year in school and 1500 hours per year glued to a television set, even if KBOE incorporates outdoors time into a school day, there is a lot of ground to regain. In fact, with statistics like those, unless we can pull televisions outside, it is unlikely that students will ever find equilibrium between their electronics and the outside.

Those stats are downright scary. Some of my best memories stem from hiking outside with my dad, or climbing trees with my siblings. Summers were not television time for us, they were the time when we went to the pool or tried to catch fish with our hands. That seems idyllic, but that was how I grew up. Now my summers are spent inside, growling at my laptop, interviewing people on my cell phone and dreaming of the day that I’ll win one of those Kindles in all the free drawings.

As a part of the generation that has grown up with 1 million stations and 50 gadgets for each hand, it’s a hard reality, I’m also from a generation that has grown up with the growing obesity rate, and there IS a correlation. Getting future generations unplugged and healthy has to start here. With us. Laughingly, as I write this, my friend sits next to me playing a GameBoy DS and I am typing away on my laptop and watching a Netflix movie.

But even as our workloads and responsibilities grow, we have to learn how to shut off and shut down. Free time can’t always be YouTube videos and Facebook. And that’s why, even if schools mandate outside time, it can only help so much. If parents don’t set the example by setting limits, then kids will never prefer to go outside.

So before us college kids become the parent role (which some of us already are), we have to train ourselves. You want to take a study break? Walk around campus. Time how long you are on Facebook. It’s embarrassing, but you’ll get a better idea of just how much you need to shut off the computer.

With the United States’ academic successes falling further behind and the obesity rates not plateau-ing anytime soon, the idea of mandatory outdoors time is only the first step in a long, wire-free (not wireless) road.