"Tweens and teens spend more than seven and half hours a day watching or listening to media."
On March 29, in a darkened lecture hall at the Central Piedmont Community College North Campus in Huntersville, that startling statistic flashed across the screen as the documentary "Play Again" began. The film, which included interviews and statistics from medical doctors, environmental scientists, educators and children all across the United States, spoke of the importance of reconnecting children with nature in today's high-tech society.
"Play Again" profiles a group of technology-obsessed children from Portland, Ore., as they embarked on a weeklong first wilderness adventure without their usual electronic devices.
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Some of the children embraced the newfound freedom in nature, while others grew more depressed from being detached from their online video games and cell phones.
CPCC's Center for Sustainability and World of Wonder, a collaboration of the Davidson Lands Conservancy and Woodland Discovery, is a new nonprofit organization in the area whose purpose is to provide outdoor learning activities for children of all ages. The Center sponsored the screening of the film, and many local parents and educators from Lake Norman schools attended.
After the film, the group, led by Carolyn Walker, an early-childhood development educator who founded Woodland Discovery, discussed ways to limit screen time with children and brainstormed ways to let children play outdoors more.
"The essence of childhood is to dig, to move, to climb," said Walker, a Cornelius resident.
"We're so afraid of them getting hurt that everything gets to be off limits. Adults need to help children learn to assess risks."
Huntersville resident Cindy Branciforte said she and her husband specifically enrolled their preschool-aged daughter at The Children's Schoolhouse in Huntersville because of the emphasis the school places on getting outside.
"My daughter starts her day outside at school and ends her day outside," said Branciforte. "I pick her up and she tells me how she picked rocks, danced and sang outside, starred in an outdoor school play, dug for treasures in the dirt, looked for works in the mud or picked flowers for her teachers."
With Woodland Discovery, Walker hopes to expose children to nature programs in an outdoor setting on private property on Poplar Tent Road. The land contains a meadow, creek, lily pond and woods. Summer camp opportunities will be available beginning in June.
She said she first got the idea for the program after reading the book "Last Child in the Woods" by author Richard Louv.
In the book, Louv writes about what he calls "nature-deficit disorder," or the lack of nature in today's high-tech, plugged-in generation.
The author, who appeared in the documentary, "Play Again," links the concept of nature-deficit disorder to the rise in childhood trends such as obesity, depression and attention disorders.
"I am a former environmental educator and truly believe what all the experts were saying in the movie," said Huntersville resident Kim Aichele. "For our family, we boot our kids outside a lot and restrict their 'screen time.' During the week, they may have a day where they don't even get any. During the week it is typically one hour per day."
But Aichele said she realizes the amount of time her family spends outdoors is probably not enough, as she and her husband often fall victim to work schedules.
The Lake Norman area offers a number of places families can explore the outdoors, such as the Latta Plantation Nature Preserve, the wooded trails at North Mecklenburg Park, Fisher Farm Park and Jetton Park. Many neighborhoods also have greenways.
"I feel like in today's world filled with everything having to be plugged in, that our children are losing out in the basics of life," said Branciforte.