Such is the case with an article I came across in the Opinion section of ABC News (Australia). Written by educator and naturalist Warren McClaren, it addresss the impact on our children when there is a disconnect between ourselves and nature.
Growing up as I did in suburban Southern California, I can look back on my experiences with nature in a very positive way and I can see the roots of my current passion for preservation and conservation of our natural resources stemming from those early moments. I was not someone who lived 24/7 in the outdoors, but I came in contact with enough to leave a lasting impact. And, sadly, that is much more than what many children are experiencing today.
Children are hearing about threats and negative impacts on nature and they are voicing their concern. And that is good. But if those feelings exist in a bubble, devoid of the first hand knowledge, can we expect their concerns to carry them into adulthood?
Without nature, the little children suffer
ABC Environment 12 Nov 2012
Charities know this. It's why they bring impoverished third world
villagers, or cancer suffers, into our lounge room, via the telly: if
they can make us connect with the issue, we are more inclined to support
Environmental activists are emboldened to speak up because they
perceive they are about to lose something. Something they truly, deeply
"In wildness is the preservation of the world." With these few words,
American philosopher, Henry David Thoreau, succinctly captured
humanity's fate. Nature is unruly, untamed. But it is also our future.
Yet we so often talk of 'The Environment' as if it exists elsewhere
else, a distant entity that humankind is not connected to. A naughty,
wild child, whom we might put in a room and close the door on, for a bit
of 'time out'.
We may have disconnected from nature, but we are delusional if we
think we can live without it. Ignoring the value and contribution of
nature to our well being is, quite literally, life threatening.
But ignoring is exactly what we're doing. In his seminal 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods,
author Richard Louv, gave this ignorance a term: Nature Deficit
Disorder. While not a medically recognised condition, there is an ever
expanding body of work which supports Louv's central theme: that
deprivation of a relationship with nature is fraught with multiple
health and welfare issues. For people. And planet.
There's head-shaking anecdotal evidence of our disconnect with
nature, such as the story I was told of kids too scared to play in their
own backyard, because they'd heard that insects wee and poo out there.
Scientific corroboration is also abundant. The Children and Nature Network has
a collection of research papers, published between 2009 and 2011, which
explored benefits to kids from contact with the outdoors. The list of
abstracts alone runs to 68 pages.
Research such as Planet Ark's recent examinations (pdf)
of Australian childhood interaction with nature today, relative to a
generation ago. One of the findings being that, "64 per cent of
respondents reported climbing trees when they were children as compared
to less than 20 per cent of their children." (pdf)
The Danish Society for Nature Conservation observed very similar
findings in their survey of 2,000 Danes:"59 per cent of grandparents
reported visiting a natural setting every day during the summer when
they were children, as compared to... just 26 per cent of children
Four hundred German and Lithuanian high school students participated
in research that found "children's emotional affinity towards nature was
a significant predictor of children's willingness for pro-environmental
A related study in the USA set out to "understand what leads children
to continue participating in natural history-oriented
professions/education/hobbies as a young adult." The research concluded
that a such vocational choice results from "early childhood and is
driven by direct, informal and unstructured experiences with nature
(from wildlands to vacant lots)."
For many Aussies their introduction to camping and outside adventures began with involvement in Scouts and
Guides. Five years ago the international Scout movement celebrated 100
years of life in the great outdoors. But it was a bittersweet centenary.
In 2001, Australia had 2,126 Scout Groups, yet by 2011 this had shrunk
to just 1,524. A noteworthy decline, coming on the back of a significant
modernisation drive within Scouting.
Where did all those budding young Baden Powells go? Inside.
For 98 per cent of Australian children, "watching TV or videos out of
school hours remains the most common recreational activity of children
aged 5 to 14 years." So revealed the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in the 2003 study, Children's Participation in Cultural and Leisure Activities.
A follow up report in 2006 noted that "[N]ot
only was the participation rate highest for 'watching television,
videos or DVDs', on average, children involved spent more time on this
activity than on any of the other selected activities." In a study
published last year, the ABS reported that whereas a tad over half of
all children were playing games online in 2006, by 2009 and this had
increased to just shy of 70 per cent. The ABS also noted that 17 per cent of kids 8 to 14 had a computer in their bedroom.
Researchers at the University of Sydney discovered that "Children who
spend more time in outdoor sport activities and less time watching TV
have better retinal microvascular structure." Retinal blood vessels have
been linked to cardiovascular disease risk factors and blood pressure.
A couple of years ago the Australian national depression initiative,
Beyond Blue, engaged Associate Professor Mardie Townsend of Deakin
University's Faculty of Health, Medicine, Nursing and Behavioural
Sciences to investigate any health benefits from including the outdoors
in our lives. She observed, "Experiencing nature in an outdoor setting
can help tackle not only physical health problems such as obesity and
coronary heart disease, but also mental health problems - and there is
plenty of evidence to support the claim." Laying out that evidence in
her 160-page report.
Drawing on the work of Kurt Hahn, pioneer of experiential learning
and the guy behind Outward Bound and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme,
Expeditionary Learning schools cite as one of their core principles,
"direct respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the
human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and
cause and effect. Students learn to become stewards of the earth and of
Developing this early connection with nature is not just some bucolic
vision of the 'nuts and berries' crowd. It also has a deep and profound
influence on children's intellectual health as well. Richard Louv's
book is packed with examples, including the school who educated their
kids out amongst local rivers, mountains and forests, "96 per cent of
[their] students meet or exceed state standards for math
problem-solving—compared to only 65 per cent of eighth graders at
comparable middle schools."
I'm not suggesting that everyone need spend 738 days hugging a tree like Julia Hill or Miranda Gibson. There are a host of mainstream opportunities for our children to learn about, and from, the outdoors. There's school endorsed outdoor education experiences, or Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden programs as currently embraced by 267 Australian primary schools. From horticultural therapy to care farming.
Or Scouts and Guides. And let's not forget family weekends camping in
the bush; or simply get down and dirty, rolling in the grass and
watching bees in the backyard or nearby park, with Mum and Dad.
For as William Shakespeare penned, "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin."
Source: ABC News