Programs around the park aim to get kids outside in nature and away from screens
By Megan Plete Postol
Grassroots initiatives are springing up around the park to heal kids from the toxic effects of too much screen time.
In Forestport, on the southern end of the park in northern Oneida County, Ash Fletcher and Jessica Maureen recently launched Forestport Nature Club, a summer-long series of Friday afternoon programming meant to provide kids age 6- 12 with nature-based and mindfulness time without devices.
“There are numerous scientific studies that point a direct link to anxiety in children and device usage,” Fletcher said. “The balm, or the solution, according to many studies is to spend more time in nature without devices.”
For example, a study published in Pediatrics, the official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, confirmed the relationship between digital media and disorders such as anxiety and depression.
Researchers in the study looked at anxiety and depression associated with technology-based negative social comparison, anxiety resulting from lack of emotion-regulation skills because of substituted digital media use, social anxiety from avoidance of social interaction because of substituted digital media use, anxiety because of worries about being inadequately connected, and anxiety, depression, and suicide as the result of cyberbullying and related behavior.
Overall, it concluded that although some digital use provided a short-term happiness boost, but chronic overuse of devices contributes to emotional disease in children.
Fletcher is the program director of Wholesome Living, an educational nonprofit organization that promotes healthy and sustainable practices. This is carried out via through yoga, community gardens, farmers markets, educational programs, and related initiatives. Maureen is the lead facilitator for Forestport Nature Club.
Forestport Nature Club runs from 3 p.m. until 5 p.m. July 23, August 13, 27, and September 3. Itinerary includes gather and greet, mindfulness in the garden, outdoor classroom presentations, interpretive trail hike and exploration time, and group games and time for arts and crafts. The program takes place at the Forestport Town Hall’s outdoor space, which includes the community garden, an outdoor classroom, and nature trails. Details can be found on the club’s Facebook page.
“The space is absolutely beautiful,” Fletcher said. “Our lead facilitator is great. We are so excited about this program.”
Program organizers encourage kids to come to engage with nature and with each other for two hours on Friday afternoons. They do not have to live in Forestport. This program aims for inclusivity, open-mindedness, and connection.
For now, the program has been capped at 20 participants due to limited parental resources. Anyone interested in volunteering in the program should contact Maureen or Fletcher for more information.
Other activities around the park
The Wild Center in Tupper Lake offers plenty of outdoor activities to redirect youth away from screens, too. The Pines Wild Play Area is a designated play spot at the Wild Center featuring sticks, stumps, and tipped over trees where kids can use their creative juices and imagination. It is complete with a nearby area for adults to sit comfortably while their kids explore. The Pines Wild Play Area was dedicated by Richard Louv, the leader of a national movement to let children reconnect to nature. The Wild Walk at the Wild Center offers a trail of ever-rising bridges to view the Adirondacks from a unique vantage point. Access to the Wild Walk (and the rest of the facility – indoor and out) is included with admission.
Hamilton County Family First Program and Trail Blazers recently hosted a hike and outdoor journaling adventure to Auger Falls. Another event like that will happen at the Adirondack Interpretive Center, 5922 State Route 28N Newcomb, Saturday, Aug 28, at 10 a.m. This event is free and will be held rain or shine.
The Paul Smith’s College Visitor Information Center has events planned through the summer, and a butterfly house that’s free to tour.
Other kid-friendly hikes in the Adirondacks include Mount Severance near Schroon Lake, Sawyer Mountain near Indian Lake, and Coney Mountain, between Long Lake and Tupper Lake. To maximize the benefits of hiking with kids, come prepared with plenty of snacks, water, and patience.
Many libraries in the Southern Adirondack Library System, a consortium of over 30 libraries, are offering summer programming, too. Schedules include the Utica Zoomobile visits, preschool story and craft time, presentations, and concerts. For specific information, contact your local library.