Your Daily Rx: Visit a Charleston Park

What if your doctor prescribed a trip to the park? That’s what one Washington, D.C., pediatrician is doing. Featured in this health story on NPR, Dr. Robert Zarr is encouraging his young patients – about 40 percent are overweight or obese – to start moving, and parks are a big part of that effort. To make his prescriptions even easier to follow, he’s mapped out more than 350 parks in the District of Columbia. Parks are rated on things like bike racks, parking, safety and pets and then linked to a patients’ medical record in a database searchable by zip code.

“I like to listen and find out what it is my patients like to do,” Zarr told NPR, “and then gauge the parks based on their interests, based on their schedules, based on the things they’re willing to do.”

In our car-based culture, kids don’t often walk to school or bike to a friend’s house. And for children in the suburbs, walking or biking to school isn’t even feasible. That, coupled with the fact kids spend a lot of time using computers, watching TV or playing video games, means they aren’t always getting the fresh air and exercise they need.

The Outdoor Foundation’s most recent Outdoor Recreation Participation Report found that even though youth and young adults had a stable participation rate from 2011 to 2012, the rates were still quite a bit lower than 2006.

So, what’s the best way to move children to the great outdoors?
– Explore a new park. We already have a database of Charleston’s more than 120 parks and green spaces and you can search for a new park near your home and even look for parks with picnic tables and playgrounds.
– Create a neighborhood challenge. We’re all familiar with the reading challenges usually sponsored by the local library: kids get prizes for the number of books they read or hours they spend reading. Use that model but make it about how much time they spend outdoors or how many new parks they visit. Get the neighbors involved and throw an end-of-summer party to celebrate the new nature lovers.
– Go exploring. Young children especially love a nature scavenger hunt. Head outside to look for colorful rocks, bird feathers or unusual leaves or flowers.
– Get your hands dirty. The Parks Conservancy has ongoing Garden in the Parks volunteer opportunities perfect for tweens and teens. They can give back to their community while learning about plants and how the local gardens are maintained.
– Visit a community garden. Currently, the Parks Conservancy has two community gardens: Magnolia and Elliotborough. Feel free to stop by and check out the amazing work our community gardeners are doing. We also have volunteer opportunities in our community beds at Magnolia Community Garden in West Ashley. Contact our community garden coordinator, Leslie Wade, for details. And keep up with our next park-to-table garden project at Medway Park on James Island.

Richard Louv, co-founder of the Children & Nature Network and the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” has more great suggestions for how you can connect your kids to the joys of nature in his article “Mud is Good!”

We’d love to hear your great suggestions for how you encourage your children to get outside and enjoy our parks and other outdoor spaces.

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