By Celina Trujillo
“Go out and play!” It was only a generation ago that parents shooed their kids out the door with those four words just as their last bit of after school snack was swallowed. So what caused the change since then? Certainly not kids’ desire for unstructured play outdoors.
We grown ups have lead (or at least permitted) the shift to longer school days, greater amounts of homework, increased involvement in organized sports and other activities, easier access to electronic media and a common belief that children are simply safer inside than outside. Even when we know research suggests that children who play outdoors in nature experience a variety benefits, today’s children typically spend fewer than 30 minutes a day doing just that.
In response, our local community is empowering and equipping us moms and other adults to change this statistic with TACO, or Take a Child Outside week. TACO is a joint effort of the Champaign County Forest Preserve District, Champaign Park District, Urbana Park District and the University of Illinois. From September 20th to the 28th we are encouraged to learn about getting our children outside for unstructured playtime in nature and then actually getting off our bums and getting our kids off their bums to do it!
Though there are events for the whole family throughout the week, there are three highlighted informational events for us moms and other adults influential on children’s development. Please note that many TACO activities require preregistration.
Star Gazing Free
Thursday, September 25, 7-9 p.m.
Meadowbrook Interpretive Center & Timpone Grove
The evening will begin with a short presentation about amateur star watching at the Meadowbrook Interpretive Center. Then explore the night sky with astronomers from the Champaign-Urbana Astronomical Society and William M. Staerkel Planetarium. Chat with local experts as you observe through their high-powered telescopes. Bring a blanket/lawn chair to sit on, and binoculars or telescope if you have them. All ages (under 15 with adult).
Introduction to Letterboxing
Friday, September 26, 5-6:30 p.m.
Interpretive Center, Homer Lake Forest Preserve, 2573 S. Homer Lake Rd, Homer.
Letterboxing combines treasure hunting and rubber stamp artistry in an exciting outdoor quest for the whole family! Join us for an introduction to the spirit and hobby of letterboxing, followed by a hike to find letterboxes in the preserve. $2 per person; children 2 and under FREE. Registration required; (217) 896-2455 or email@example.com.
Bird Conservation in the Great Lakes Region: Successes, Challenges, and Learning from the Passenger Pigeon
Friday, September 26, 7:00 p.m.
Urbana Civic Center
Josh Engel from Chicago’s Field Museum will give a special presentation about conservation for future generations. Josh’s talk emphasizes passenger pigeons, extinction, and the human relationship with nature from a global perspective. He relates his own experiences in various places where he has seen both the destruction wrought by humans on natural systems as well as the attempts to save what remains. How can we learn from the past to stave off future extinctions, in a world where the obstacles to such a goal sometimes often seem insurmountable? Josh will bring his global experience to the discussion to look at what has worked—and what hasn’t—to protect biodiversity around the world.
What barriers do you or your children face in having free, unstructured play in nature?
Celina Trujillo has lived in Urbana since 1998, when she started attending the University of Illinois. Three degrees and one job later, she recently decided to put it all on hold to start homeschooling and homemaking full-time. Her blog, Squawks of a Mama Bird, records the learning process of this unexpected new adventure for her family.