When his nephew was a very little boy, my husband Brian took him for a walk in the orchard adjacent to our home in the country. The house and the orchard have been in the family since 1827 – a heritage that Brian loves to share with family and friends.
They talked about the cows in the neighboring field and how their milk was harvested and brought to market, and then Brian invited young Gregory to see the trees where the apples grew. The four year-old expressed his complete disbelief in his uncle’s explanation where of apples originated.
“Of course they grow on trees,” Brian said. “Where did you think they came from?”
“The grocery store,” was Greg’s reply.
I was reminded of this favorite family story when I recently read an article by Richard Louv entitled, “A Walk in the Woods”, (Orion Magazine, March/April 2009). Louv, who is chairman of the Children & Nature Network, retells his own story of a visit to an elementary school he had attended as a child in Missouri. He asked the children about their relationship with nature and not surprisingly discovered that most of the children preferred indoor activities such as playing video games. Those who did play outside preferred organized sports – with the exception of one little girl.
“When I’m in the woods I feel like I’m in my mother’s shoes,” the little girl said. She described how being alone in the woods made her feel happy and peaceful until the day that her woods were cut down.
“It was like they cut down part of me,” she said.
Louv went on to ask various friends if children, in fact, have a right to walk in the woods – to feel a part of nature – and was surprised with the responses that he received. Humans are apart from nature was the general consensus, not a part of it.
To help remedy this situation, The Children & Nature Network has created a wonderful handbook, “Nature Clubs for Families Tool Kit: Do It Yourself! Do It Now!” The handbook (which is downloadable from the Network’s website) is designed to provide inspiration and information to create nature clubs that will open the door to the wealth of natural adventures that waits in your own backyard – or orchard!
The booklet offers a host of wonderful ideas for families and communities just in time for March break. Nature Cubs can be as diverse and as interesting as the communities that host them. The goal is to overcome barriers to enjoying nature, such as fear for personal safely, or a lack of parental knowledge about the great outdoors.
The benefits of playing outside go way beyond learning about nature. A recent study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics Journal (Vol. 123 No. 2 February 2009), entitled “School Recess and Group Classroom Behavior,” (Romina M. Barros, et al) found that school aged children who received a daily recess outside achieved a much higher rating on class behavioral tests.
The Pediatrics study confirms a report in Science Daily (February 19, 2009) on work of University of Illinois researcher Frances Kuo. Professor Kuo concluded that children with ADHD had fewer symptoms when they participated in outdoor activities in what are described as “lush environments.” Kuo’s work also indicates that the elderly live longer and college students perform better when they live closer to green spaces.
It’s a logical conclusion. We isolate ourselves from the natural environment in as many ways as possible. We live in thermostatically controlled environments, travel in similarly controlled vehicles, consume genetically altered foods, breathe artificially filtered and scented air and prefer virtual activities over the real thing. And therein lies the heart of the problem.
“We can truly care for nature and ourselves only if we see ourselves and nature as inseparable, wrote Louv, “only if we love ourselves as part of nature, only if we believe that our children have a right to the gifts of nature undestroyed.”
The Children & Nature Network was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working to reconnect children with nature.
Orion is a bimonthly magazine devoted to the need for ecological awareness and a new relationship between people and nature.
American Academy of Pediatrics publications