Some of the most vivid memories from my early childhood include playing in a ravine near my house. My friends and I would explore the creek and meander through the small forest for hours, escaping into the relaxing, yet stimulating surroundings. Unfortunately, children today are less likely to share what many of us took for granted and recall fondly.
Far more critical than a loss of fond memories, however, is that studies are beginning to link decreased time spent by children in a natural setting to increased levels of attention deficit, obesity and depression - what researchers term “Nature Deficit Disorder”.
In addition, there is growing concern that our nation is producing less scientists and engineers, not only due to a lack of interest in curriculum, but also the lack of practical hands-on experiences children would typically acquire through time spent outdoors at an early age. Part of our mission at the Discovery Zone in Monroe is to introduce children to a natural setting at an early age in a fun, stimulating, safe and child-friendly environment.
We recognize that today's children are bombarded by more external stimuli than ever before and need more than a passive ”nature hike” to spark a sustainable interest. Toward that end, the Discovery Zone will begin offering an hour-long “Discovering Spring” program for four and five year olds beginning March 25th in which we will weave stories, crafts and a world of fantasy into the exciting world of hands-on outdoor activities.
Offering programs such as this in a natural setting vs. indoor venues offers children at an early age unsurpassed opportunities for growth by identifying and ordering, categorizing and assigning a wide array of stimulating and engaging items surrounding them such as trees, plants, rocks, birds, flowers, animals and habitats.
For older children, the Discovery Zone offers an interactive Scavenger Hunt - an outdoor "I-Spy" game designed to heighten a child’s awareness and observational powers, promote exercise and reduce stress, while embedding educational opportunities that reinforce many concepts learned in school.
The Discovery Zone Scavenger Hunt is the brainchild of two of the state's most respected experts in their field - Hank Gruner, noted Biologist, Herpetologist and Vice President of Programs for the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford, and Nick Bellantoni, Connecticut State Archeologist.
Parents also report that a trip to the Discovery Zone provides a spontaneous and enjoyable way to spend quality time with your children. Whether you spend 30 minutes after school or a leisurely Sunday afternoon, the unplanned memorable moments of discovery you share with your child can help foster a love of learning and improve your child's cognitive abilities--a great anecdote to combat short attention spans caused by computers, television and video games.
While today’s parents do their best to enrich their children’s lives with many planned activities, it would be instructive to reflect back on a time when many of these activities weren’t offered and the ever increasing problems children are experiencing today weren’t nearly as acute. Interaction with nature, instinctive to us since the earliest days of mankind, has all but disappeared from many children’s lives.
At the Discovery Zone, learning about nature is not our primary goal, but rather we use nature as a critical platform to promote the mental, physical and emotional growth of our children.