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How many of San Diego’s youth grow up with little or no contact with the natural environment? Do we understand the consequences of this disconnect and what the benefits are that our children might be missing — such as improving both their overall health and academic achievements?
Disconnection from nature is a societal trend that should perhaps be categorized as an epidemic. Author Richard Louv, and his book “Last Child in the Woods, Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” have touched a nerve in America and abroad.
The book pulls together a host of studies that indicate alienation from nature has profound human costs, including diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.
Since the first printing of the book in spring 2005, Louv has found himself on a whirlwind of speaking tours including an appearance on the Today Show. Louv attributes 33 printings of Last Child in the Woods to the “shock realization” of his thesis. The concern that children are not being exposed to natural surroundings is supported by such data as; “only 6 percent of children ages 9 to 13 play outside in a typical week”.
Louv submits that the benefits that access to nature provides are subtle but very important. Effects of attention-deficit disorder are reduced when children have regular access to the out-of-doors. Free play in and with nature enhances children’s problem-solving ability, creativity, self-esteem, and self-discipline. Merely playing organized sports outdoors does not have the same conditioning and reflective attributes as experiential observation of how nature works.
His book also points to a study conducted by the State Education and Environmental Roundtable that indicates children actually learn better in an outdoor setting than within the walls of a traditional classroom. “The Roundtable worked with 150 schools in 16 states for ten years, identifying and comparing model environment-based programs. The findings indicate that environment-based education produces student gains in social studies, science, language arts and math; improves standardized test scores and grade point averages; and develops skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and decision making.” (Report entitled “Closing the Achievement Gap”, (2002).
Other studies show that student enthusiasm and engagement in learning dramatically increases in an outdoor, green environment.
Louv also discusses the resulting reduction of environmental advocates and the dangers of an emerging generation that lacks a deep appreciation for nature. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a group that helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environmental challenges, discussed the “nature deficit” issue at their meeting last November in Barcelona. They passed a resolution urging members to become active in “reconnecting people, especially children, and nature as a priority in order to assure responsible stewardship of the environment for generations to come.”
So important is this call to action that on September 18, 2008, the House of Representatives passed the No Child Left Inside Act, H.R. 3036. The Act will help take environmental education into the 21st Century by improving existing federal programs.
Louv writes: “By interacting with the natural world, children encounter a matrix of diverse and stimulating opportunities to engage such affective capacities as wonder, imagination, and joy. Children’s experience of nature provides a source of deep and enduring emotional significance throughout people’s lives.”
The soil, the woods, wildlife, aromas of sage, flowing creeks and the sounds of songbirds serve to awaken all of our senses in a dynamic environment of free-flowing fascination, -a sharp contrast to the focused attention demands of a computer screen, a TV, a video game or any controlled indoor environment.
What can we do to reconnect our families to the natural environment?
It doesn’t require an organized or funded ‘program’. Just mark a day on the family’s calendar and head for the open space trails and the nature centers! If you share the excitement of your adventure with friends, neighbors and/or relatives, you may soon be caravanning to destinations in a community celebration of the out-of-doors.
In San Diego, the answer is often right outside our back doors. We have hundreds of open space canyons scattered throughout the city providing nearby opportunities for free access to nature. Without getting in a car, families can hike, explore, observe wildlife and escape to nature from an otherwise completely paved and urbanized environment. They can witness together the balance in life that nature displays and from that, enhance their own abilities for reasoning, cause and effect, linear thinking and prediction n cognitive skills necessary for humans of all ages to survive effectively. The nearby canyons also lend themselves to cutting edge environment-based education where schools can easily establish outdoor nature-classroom curriculum. For more information on opportunities to access canyons and canyon-youth programs please visit www.sdcanyonlands.org.
Come to the “Children and Nature” presentation by Richard Louv, Tuesday, February 24, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. at Point Loma Nazarene University.
For more information visit http://www.pointloma.edu/LJML/LJML_Events.htm
or call Edie Chapman 619-849-2297.
Louv has literally started a movement throughout the nation and the world to get kids connected to nature. He founded a new, international nonprofit organization called Children & Nature Network (C&NN). “Children and Nature” coalitions have been formed in cities throughout the U.S.. Visit C&NN’s website www.childrenandnature.org to learn more.
The time is ripe for San Diego’s own “children and nature” movement. A new San Diego Children & Nature Network is forming and as a kick off event we’re planning a “Children and Nature Day” on the first day of Spring, March 21.
Leaders in health care, business, non-profit, church, education, and government can make nature a priority in the lives of our children by helping to grow the San Diego Children and Nature Network. For information visit: www.SDChildrenandNature.org or call Camille at 619-507-6920.
Louv writes: “Healing the broken bond between our young and nature is in our self-interest, not only because aesthetics or justice demand it, but also because our mental, physical, and spiritual health depend upon it.”