January 18, 2012

The importance of nature

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
by Richard Louv

In chapter one of From Then to Now: A Short History of the World, Christopher Moore asks Did you ever go farther than a car or a motorboat could take you, to a place where you could see no lights, no roads? To a place where no phones rang, beyond the view of power lines and buildings, beyond the rumble of traffic? At night you saw no city lights glowing on the horizon, but a billion stars blazed fiercely overhead. Outside the crackling comfort of your fire there was only darkness, with the rustle of insects and an animal's distant cry. You could feel for a moment that you and your companions might be the only people on the face of the earth.

Sadly, many children are growing up with little connection to nature. Summer camps, Boy Scouts, and Girl Guides teach children more about computers, science, self-improvement or serving others, rather than natural history. There is growing evidence that the lack of nature in children's lives corresponds to the rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv makes an eloquent and convincing case for the essentialness of direct exposure to nature. He cites the cumulative impact of overdevelopment, environmental regulation, building regulation, fear of litigation and fear of strangers as the reason why kids today are prevented from exploring the outdoors. But, you may argue, my child plays soccer, rides skateboards, uses all-terrain vehicles; isn't that spending time outside? Yes, but Louv states that using nature isn't the same as being in nature. Children need to experience an awareness of nature so that they can better appreciate its wonders and learn to sustain it. They can also find that being alone in nature can nurture creativity, alleviate stress, and provide solace in times of trouble.

Connecting to nature doesn't have to be difficult. Planting a garden, building an igloo, going on a hike or building adventure playgrounds - these are all activities that Louv suggests for healing the broken bond between children and nature.

Louv is an American author, but his book is a very important and effective wake-up call for parents, teachers, and policy-makers. 

No comments: