A Walk in the Woods

Photo: Sonja Thomsen
Photo: Sonja Thomsen

A FEW YEARS AGO, I visited Southwood Elementary, the grade school I attended when I was a boy growing up in Raytown, Missouri. I asked a classroom of children about their relationship with nature. Many of them offered the now-typical response: they preferred playing video games; they favored indoor activities — and when they were outside, they played soccer or some other adult-organized sport. But one fifth-grader, described by her teacher as “our little poet,” wearing a plain print dress and an intensely serious expression, said, “When I’m in the woods, I feel like I’m in my mother’s shoes.” To her, nature represented beauty, refuge, and something else.

“It’s so peaceful out there and the air smells so good. For me, it’s completely different there,” she said. “It’s your own time. Sometimes I go there when I’m mad — and then, just with the peacefulness, I’m better. I can come back home happy, and my mom doesn’t even know why.” She paused. “I had a place. There was a big waterfall and a creek on one side of it. I’d dug a big hole there, and sometimes I’d take a tent back there, or a blanket, and just lay down in the hole, and look up at the trees and sky. Sometimes I’d fall asleep back in there. I just felt free; it was like my place, and I could do what I wanted, with nobody to stop me. I used to go down there almost every day.” The young poet’s face flushed. Her voice thickened. “And then they just cut the woods down. It was like they cut down part of me.”

I was struck by her last comment: “It was like they cut down part of me.” If E. O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis is right — that human beings are hard-wired to get their hands wet and their feet muddy in the natural world — then the little poet’s heartfelt statement was more than metaphor. When she referred to her woods as “part of me,” she was describing something impossible to quantify: her primal biology, her sense of wonder, an essential part of her self.

Recently I began asking friends this question: Does a child have a right to a walk in the woods? Does an adult? To my surprise, several people responded with puzzled ambivalence. Look at what our species is doing to the planet, they said; based on that evidence alone, isn’t the relationship between human beings and nature inherently oppositional? I certainly understand that point of view. But consider the echo from folks who reside at another point on the political/cultural spectrum, where nature is the object of human dominion, a distraction on the way to Paradise. In practice, these two views of nature are radically different. Yet, on one level, the similarity is striking: nature remains the “other.” Humans are in it, but not of it.

The basic concept of rights made some people uncomfortable. One friend asked, In a world in which millions of children are brutalized every day, can we spare time to forward a child’s right to experience nature? Good question. Others pointed out that we live in an era of litigation inflation and rights deflation; too many people believe they have a “right” to a parking spot, a “right” to cable TV, even a “right” to live in a neighborhood that bans children. Do we really need to add more “rights” to our catalogue of entitlements? Another good question.

The answer to both questions is yes, if we can agree that the right at issue is fundamental to our humanity, to our being.

A growing body of scientific evidence identifies strong correlations between experience in the natural world and children’s ability to learn, along with their physical and emotional health. Stress levels, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, cognitive functioning — and more — are positively affected by time spent in nature. “In the same way that protecting water and protecting air are strategies for promoting public health,” says Howard Frumkin, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “protecting natural landscapes can be seen as a powerful form of preventive medicine.” In October, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine, Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis, and the University of Washington reported that greener neighborhoods are associated with slower increases in children’s body mass, regardless of residential density. Such research will be immensely helpful as we rethink our approaches to urban design, education, and health care, in particular our societal response to childhood obesity.

Yes, we need more research, says Frumkin, “but we know enough to act.” To reverse the trends that disconnect children from nature, actions must be grounded in science, but also rooted in deeper earth.

In 2007, the National Forum on Children and Nature, an impressive collection of mayors, professors, conservationists, and business leaders, met in Washington DC to explore the disconnection between children and nature. The conversation was enlightening, at times passionate, but as the hours passed several of the attendees began to ask about quantification. Some were looking for a business model to apply to the challenge of introducing children to the natural world. Most saw the obvious need for more research. “I appreciate this discussion, but I’d like to say something,” announced Gerald L. Durley, Senior Pastor at Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta. Durley had helped found the Afro-American Cultural Organization and worked shoulder to shoulder with Martin Luther King Jr. He leaned forward and said, “A movement moves. It has life.”

Like every successful movement, the civil rights struggle was fueled by a strongly articulated moral principle, one that did not need to be proved again and again. The outcome of the civil rights movement might have been quite different, or at least delayed, had its leaders waited for more statistical proof to justify their cause, or focused on the metrics of lunch-counter sit-ins, Durley added. Some efforts proved successful, some were counterproductive. But the movement moved.

“When making a moral argument, there are no hard and fast rules, and such arguments can always be contended,” according to my friend Larry Hinman, professor of philosophy at the University of San Diego. “But most moral arguments are made based on one or two points. These include a set of consequences and a first principle — for example, respect for human rights.” Science sheds light on the measurable consequences of introducing children to nature; studies pointing to health and cognition benefits are immediate and concrete. We also need to articulate the underlying “first principle” — one that emerges not only from what science can prove, but also from what it cannot fully reveal; one that resists codification because it is so elemental: a meaningful connection to the natural world is fundamental to our survival and spirit, as individuals and as a species.

In our time, Thomas Berry has presented this inseparability most eloquently. A Catholic priest of the Passionist order and founder of the History of Religions Program at Fordham University and the Riverdale Center of Religious Research, for the better part of his ninety-four years on the planet Berry has been prescient. Berry incorporates Wilson’s biological view within a wider, cosmological context. In his book The Great Work, he wrote: “The present urgency is to begin thinking within the context of the whole planet, the integral Earth community with all its human and other-than-human components. When we discuss ethics we must understand it to mean the principles and values that govern that comprehensive community.”

The natural world is the physical manifestation of the divine, Berry believes. The survival of both religion and science depends not on one winning (because then both would lose), but on the emergence of what he calls a third story, a twenty-first-century story. Speaking of absolutes may make us uncomfortable, but surely this is true: As a society, we need to give nature back to our kids. Not doing that is immoral. It is unethical. “A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans,” Berry writes. “If there is to be any true progress, then the entire life community must progress.”

In the formation of American ideals, nature was elemental to the idea of human rights. Inherent in the thinking of the Founding Fathers was this assumption: with every right comes responsibility. Whether we are talking about democracy or nature, if we fail to serve as careful stewards, we will destroy the reason for our right, and the right itself. Those of us who identify ourselves as conservationists or environmentalists — whatever word we prefer — nearly always have had some transcendent experience in the natural world, usually in the form of independent play, with hands muddy, feet wet. We cannot love what we do not know. As Robert Michael Pyle puts it so well, “What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”

We must do more than talk about the importance of nature; we must ensure that children in every kind of neighborhood have everyday access to natural spaces, places, and experiences. To make that happen, this truth must become evident: we can truly care for nature and ourselves only if we see ourselves and nature as inseparable, 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 little girl in Raytown may not have a specific right to that particular tree in her chosen woods, but she does have the inalienable right to be with other life; to liberty, which cannot be realized under protective house arrest; and to the pursuit of happiness, which is made whole by the universe.

Richard Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, chairman of Children & Nature Network, and recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal. He lives in San Diego.

Comments

  1. Why was that fifth grade girl the only “poet,” described as such in class? Where I teach in rural Mendocino County, all of my kids are poets and writers and musical artists and sports heroes. Yes, I have a few video junkies, but get them outside, on a hike to the ocean or park, or a camp out, and they open up into wonder-filled humans with questions and insights galore about their natural surroundings . . . all good teaching materials.
    I remember a Pomo student I had once, who in the middle of the full gallop of an intense soccer game, yelled at me mid-stride and said, “did you hear that?” A red-tailed hawk had just flown overhead, squawking, and he was the only kid at that moment aware enough and with the presence of a natural mind to have caught that event. You see, there is such a thing as multiple intelligences, Howard Gardner and all that, and they include awareness of nature wisdom at every level.
    For kids to develop the many skills they need, mere exposure to nature is not enough. Immersion in nature, in-depth study of nature, and a revolution from the heart of nature (Bioneers-style) is a moral and ethical imperative for our future.
    Otherwise, the Four R’s will never take hold: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Restore. And it’s especially the “restore” part that we don’t have nearly as much time as we may need to successfully turn things around.

  2. After 37 years in environmental education I am concerned. I know that students have been impacted and that environmental education was a strong outcome of earth day.

    I have been running an environmental education center, teaching in colleges and watching alumni do wonderful things.

    We have wonderful partner schools and excellent materials and support, yet – if you asked me 30 years ago what the results of all our education efforts would be, I would have expected more.

    I would have thought those who had been raised in schools with environmental education would have been teaching their children what they had learned. That the parks would be flowing with hikers and explorers, not just travelers looking for a place to park their RV’s overnight.

    But we have seen the statistics of under appreciated parks, of less time outside – all the things that inspired your books.

    Teachers are doing some wonderful things with the outdoors and we have many students waxing poetic, just like we did in the 70s. 80s, 90s, but what happens to that wonderful inspiration?

    How do we compete with the pressures of the market place? How do we go beyond the – I wish I had the time to take my kids out, the reflection that there are so many issues that distract from the basis of our existence – the environment.

    When I start a talk I always excuse people who might not want to waste there time by giving them a little test – Two questions. If you can answer no to either, I do not have anything to share. Do you breathe air? Do you drink water? If you answer yes, the environment is your most important issue.

    But even when we do pass our children through the care and inspiration of outdoor experiences and environmental education in to a system that discounts both in favor of higher economic returns.

    We are all challenged to encourage the values that accompany the knowledge and experience.

    I salute all the teachers who are trying and working hard, the people who support this effort and understand that education is our most important tool for investing in the future of the planet.

    Keep challenging us.

  3. I would like to second some of Jeff’s comments. We tend to focus on the negative and offer little in the way of constructive critique. Why is it that the article does not hail the thousands of teachers that are trained in environmental education programs such as Project Learning Tree every year? In addition, while author laments the many students who are sequestered within four walls, why does he not also celebrate the schools such as Oil City Oil City Elementary Magnet School in Louisiana, where environmental education, both within and around the school has lead to greatly improved scholastic achievement. And finally, why not praise the many initiatives such as the Environmental Sabbath that attempt to develop the moral foundation required for the resolution of issues of sustainability. Defining the problem is only half the job.

  4. This is a comment in response to the question about why Richard Louv did not include examples of great resources in his most recent article in Orion. This particular article of Rich’s was an exploration of the moral questions around the changes in childhood for most young people today. While there are a host of good programs and resources out there, despite their availability and the fact that some children are reached through such efforts, the trend over the past thirty years –escalated in the past ten years—is one in which children typically do not have direct experiences in nature as a part of their everyday lives. In many other of his articles and in great detail in his seventh book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Rich does offer such examples and a host of resources. We do as well on the Web site of the Children & Nature Network, http://www.childrenandnature.org, the non-profit I co-founded with Rich and others in order to build a movement to reconnect children and nature. Join us, and help us fill out the map with great resources, programs, events and more!

  5. The example doesn’t seem to apply. The “poet” enjoyed nature but the other kids said little about it not because they were denied it, or their “rights” violated,but because they enjoyed other things: video games, organized sports. Not because there were no play spaces or that they were destroyed. So the question becomes not whether or no they have some kind of moral right to nature, since we all know time spent in free-play and nature is beneficial, but how to actually make that happen? What can the author show for that?

    When I visit my kids’ school and ask abbout their experiences in the natural world, or better yet, actually lead them on a nature walk, plenty of of kids, at least 3/4, say they enjoy the natural world and would readily choose it over playing inddors.

    “To reverse the trends that disconnect children from nature, actions must be grounded in science, but also rooted in deeper earth.” What does that even mean? Rooted in deeper earth? Earth is deeper than science? The author wanted to sound deep?

    “We can truly care for nature and ourselves . . . only if we love ourselves as part of nature.”

    Another profundity: just love yourself. It’s natural.

    Much preferred the approach laid out by Brian Doyle in his review of A Natural Sense of Wonder in Orion’s last issue.

    http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/review/4269/

  6. Any little amount would do so much good… You could go to your local elementary school and suggest that once a week the teachers take their students to a hiking path, a pond, or a park. Even volunteer your time to act as a guide. Even if they can only get outside for a couple hours a week it would do a world of good. Let them run around, explore, learn. The goal would be to arouse their own curiosity, not forcing them to listen to you babble on about what around them. Let them see it.

  7. Hi there. I am currently attempting to write an essay about the importance of exposure to nature and its link to nurturing creativity. I wondered whether anyone had come across articles/books about this link? Obviously, exposure to nature, or to some extent simply being out of doors can stimulate creativity. But what kind of creativity are we talking about? I feel the notion of sustainable creativity may here become key…
    Also, can anyone help out with the statistics of how much children are actually getting out of doors, perhaps using parks etc. these days?

    CHEERS!

  8. I think children understands nature better than any grown adult; for this reason, they are more phyically and mentally adapted to the outdoor. How many of them when asked, “Do you want to go to the park or play outside?” Of course, they will say “yes” over playing video games if their parents allow them to. What is the bond between kid/nature? As an adult and referring to Louv’s writing, we have no right to take away what belong to the children; their freedom to explore the natural. We need to give each of them the short opportunity (privilege and right) before they lose that connection and be driven into society’s demand. I am sure, all of us once had that spiritual bonding with nature.

  9. I think “rooted deeper in earth” means that science is good, but in the end it’s just intellectualization, which is something that doesn’t fully satisfy the human person. We need something that fulfills us at heart as well.

    Maybe this is why all the environmental classes in the world won’t give real results if kids don’t have access to nature, which is the case in most cities, where most people live. Here in Detroit, you have to drive a long way to get somewhere “wild.” The idea can be there, but if the actual experience isn’t, the idea is useless.

    And while it’s true that nature is everywhere, it’s hard to stay focused when all you have is a lawn and some shade trees, for miles all around; especially with all the other distractions in modern life competing for the child’s attention.

    I don’t mean to dismiss environmental and ecology classes, but they’re not enough alone. A couple weekend trips a year to the woods isn’t enough. As Jef said, immersion is the key; there has to be a relationship to nature, a regular visiting. Otherwise it won’t come to have meaning in one’s life.

  10. I think Louv makes a very good point and I like that he mentions that nature can be a preventative medicine. I wonder how many children would not have to take medications if their parents took them hiking or camping instead of the doctor’s office.
    Sure they have P.E. and sports in school, but not many really experience or connect to nature on a meaningful level.

  11. As much as I enjoyed the article and the eloquence of the child I often have the feeling that people are living in a perceptual “bubble” about our society, our people, and our government that is not based on our actual behavior. The author speaks of being “stewards” of the land. Lovely thought but you are speaking to a people who are the lineal descendants of genocidal pastoralist killer nomads going back 3500 years to Central Asia – and we have the operating values to match. We are not stewards. We are conquerors and colonists. We are the Locust tribe. We descend and we feed. We are the melanin deficient Aryans: Brahmin; Persian; Greek; Latin (Rome to Portugal -> W. Hemisphere); & Celt (Ural Mts. to Emerald Isles -> W. Hemisphere) and the last four have written the history of the Global North in each other’s blood. The kiddie raping slave holding richfilth patrician animals who founded this country didn’t want a king, they wanted the Roman Slave Republic before Pompey Magnus and Gaius Julius Son of Venus – a Roman Slave Republic ruled by feral Patrician Gens, just like them.

    When we came here a squirrel could climb a tree on the Atlantic coast of the US and moving tree to tree, never touch the ground until it reached the Mississippi river. We fixed that in a hurry. Be very clear about this. I completely agree with the author’s premise, humans require a physical connection to their world in order to be “sane”. We don’t and we aren’t and we haven’t been since long before Robert Moses and that’s why we are killing the biosphere and each other in wholesale lots and it always comes back to the values and beliefs that are the core drivers of a society. Forget WORDS. We are sociopath with WORDS. Look at what we do. That tells you who we are and what our real values are all about. Like Authority figures in secondary education tacitly approving “pack behaviors” among their charges. Packs always “search out and destroy” potential victims. These are practice behaviors for their later adult lives. Such feral children are often sired by a matched pair of feral adults who think that stuff is just fine. Small prediction: They are going to mangle “our little poet” in the plain print dress. They’ve already hung a jacket around her neck, making her a target. Her only likely chance of survival is to change schools and learn from her mistakes. Staying in the school of the story will be very ugly. What does that tell you about the kind of society that approves such behavior?

    This is a society based on Exclusion. Male supremacy; Gender slavery; Human slavery; Constant war and conquest as the force that gives our lives meaning; and a feral Oligarchy. These are the Five Fingers of the fist of genocide. We have them all and we’ve done it here in this land. That’s why our housing tracts are built on mass graves and our freeways are paved with the bones of our victims from here and around the globe. You can’t drink warm AB negative from a human skull and then go sing Kumbaya in the choir. Not going to happen. Although it doesn’t prevent them from trying – while as the diva Joni Mitchell sang so many years ago, “…they paved paradise, put a parking lot.” We noticed the dichotomy long before the little girl was born. We grieve for her, for what will be done to her in the restoration of full blown gender slavery in this country as it reverts to its degraded norm, and for the degraded biosphere that will be the only world she ever knows. If she took her own life in her mid-20’s I would place no blame on her. On my generation? Yes. Oh yes. We sealed doom of this place every time we reaffirmed the decision our parents made forty years ago. But then, people have no history – peasants live only in the perpetual “now”. Short version: White America elected RMN 40 years ago, “…to put those filthy niggers, those fucking cunts, and those filthy fucking god dammed commie fucking anti-war protesters in their place.” (that’s a quote. I was there. From NY to Lost Angels. 49 states elected the animal Nixon). America had enough already. The prior 10 years had been a frontal assault on melanin deficient America’s core values, the Five Fingers. Nixon took the purple. Hoover took the call. America cheered. Ritual defamation; False imprisonment; Extra Judicial Execution. COINTELPRO. No more leaders and no more mass movements for economic and social justice. And now we are all here and our world is burning down around our ears.

    Because we are insane, and because we murdered, imprisoned, or silenced all those who could have brought forward viable solutions, this country will die. All the “solutions” that any of Master’s Overseers will propose will result in regular folks being fucked to death by Master’s corporations. Sorry. For insane Oligarchies (produced by insane people), Nature is Enemy #1 and working people are Enemy #2. Roman Slave Republic ruled by feral Patrician Gens. Pave paradise, put up a parking lot.

  12. It’s been said that we are biologically connected to each other, chemically connected to the earth, atomically connected to the universe. I like that. Brothers to each other, cousins of the planets, children of the stars, we have a right to be here. And with that right comes the responsibility to care for the worlds around us.

  13. Like most other learning that human children acquire, the example set by the role models in their lives will make the most difference. People don’t miss what they’ve never known, and the majority of kids are being raised by people who are distracted by everyday socirty or are ignorant themselves of nature.Also, a lot of people growing up today don’t know how to “play outdoors” unless in an adult-organized team game, etc, as one of the commenters said. Our lives no longer involve “outdoors” except on a superficial or recreational level. We no longer have to go out and feed and care for the animals and land and growing plants that provide us our sustenence, so we no longer know intimately what goes on out there. What we need is everything: ecology classes, environmental-education trips and projects, vacations outdoors, daily walks through the nearest green space, and chores taking care of other species and our own, growing some or all of our own food, seeing first hand the consequences of our decisions and the results of our endeavors, and noticing all the other lives that are dependent upon the exact same Earth, the same space, the same land, the same forests, air, and water as we are. Likely to happen? I don’t know. I’m doing what I can, because I need to be out in the woods and “natural” spaces regularly in order to function, and I’ve seen reports of studies that theorize about or prove the efficacy of time outside in nature on the well-being of people, including learning, healing, and improvement in autistic children’s behavior and undertanding and interacting when time outdoors in green spaces in included in their day. If we conducted a significant portion of our school science classes outdoors with kids doing hands-on projects with the earthly processes, we could make great leaps in the right direction, and I’m sure there are other ways to include the natural, “real” world in contemporary daily life. Community gardens and park lands serve as the backyard of urban dwellers, and intelligent city planning could put work and commercial locations within walking distance of residences. Our working day could be restructured, and we could all adjust to make a way to connect with “outdoors” while still pursuing our 21st century lives. It’s a major adjustment to our mindset, and the replacement of “nature as adversary” with “nature as part of self, self as part of nature, all part of The All” which is an inderstanding that would cause us to change and save us and our world.

  14. I’m heartened to see the movement push the question of morality and ethics. I loved “Last Child…” and have followed the discussion since, but can’t help but feel like all the organizing, policy making, studies and awareness day claiming is missing something more organic and fundamental that is key in changing our culture. Just this past weekend at our local ski area I witnessed a couple locking horns with their preschooler who wanted to walk through a mud puddle (with full ski regalia on). They meant well. Probably thought they were doing the right “parental” thing, but come on; they were spring skiing in the NE, not headed to church. Real sea change will come the day it is considered just as politically incorrect to forbid a child from experiencing the squish of mud beneath his ski boot as it is to insist he maintain a stiff upper lip when he skins his knee or to punish him for accidentally spilling milk. Just as a child should have the right to cry when he’s hurt, he should have the right to satisfy his curiosity about the natural world with his senses, not just read about it for the test. The curiosity, creativity and insight is inherent in them when they’re young — until we “educate” and “correct” them out of it. It most definitely is a moral issue.

  15. This week my grandson is visiting. He lives in the city, I live surrounded by a state forest. Our pleasures are simple. The first day we waded out in the ice waters that fill the prairie and pasture in front of the home. I bought rubber boots, he immediately got them full of water and eventually got wet to the neck. It was 70 air temp, the water was ice water. He did not care. He played, he broke the ice, he laughed for over an hour and he did not get hypothermia, a cold, the flu or anything else that everyone worries about when children play. What he did get was an ability to experiment, to test and to be happy.

    The same thing was true as we went for geocaches in the forest, fed the horses in the pasture, hiked down the forest roads.

    It is simple. He gets up and says – can we go outside grandpa?

    We sit on the porch and talk and play. We absorb the sun, we look at the birds at the feeders, the squirrels sneaking around and make friends with the world.

    When a writer notes that people got upset when the child got their skis in water it reminded me of one thing that everyone needs to be aware of, when we do things with kids, we need to do them for the children too.

    Make your expectations match theirs, not the other way around.

    My wife and I have been writing a series of books for grandparents on places to go and wisdom to share.

    One of the main lessons is that you make the experience satisfy the child and you go back for the extra exhibit, the experiences that you, as an adult desire.

    Mud, water, sand, snow and ice are just mediums for creativity in the mind of a child who has been given the freedom of expression.

  16. As long as we wait for the THEY who are in power positions to implement what we believe we need to become part of nature again, it won’t happen. THEY are always blamed. We have to realize that WE are THEY. When every individual/family decides to go back to nature to renew health, then things will be moving in the right direction. Those of us already in the know have to lead by example, and tell the others, especially the children, the truth.

    My community is boasting that they are going green, yet the code enforcers have harassed me because I “have too many plants in my yard”.They said I need to have spaces between my plants, and they can’t be above 7 feet.
    Good luck world.

  17. What a beautiful article very thought provoking. when I was a child I had access to wildlife at my doorstep. Now I receive a rare glimpse and I always feel for the children who miss out on this wonderful experience.

  18. Here’s an observation I have made over many decades. Born in New York City I have lived in a rural part of southwestern Virginia and to my disappointment find that children who have been raised in countryside with creatures of all kinds which they have experienced very often have less sensitivity to nature and wildlife than city children, even those who like myself had little hands-on experience. I also have found the new approach of encouraging children to handle and hold frogs and turtles, etc. does not necessarily generate respect for the creatures, as much as being with adults who care deeply, and may teach them to leave such beings alone to “live their own lives.” I have been a kindergarten, art and nature teacher to children for over thirty years. Thank you, Alwyn Moss

  19. I have found that some city kids have a deeper respect for animals and plants then the country folk.How do you teach Respect for the environment?
    I remember I was listening to a lecture when a bunch of cockatoos flew over the classroom their screechs filled the room. It made me smile. But the lecturer was annoyed and said I wish those birds would shut up. From that second I stopped paying attention to my lecturer and started to write poetry about cockatoos. They only made a brief noise less then a minutes worth. I could not believe she complained. Especially as the subject she was teaching was Social Ecology!

  20. Very true. Early in my career working at a nature center I would much prefer to teaches the classes from the city than the suburb. Sometimes it seems one appreciates and is intrigued more by what they don’t have. Perhaps that is why New Jersey the most densely populated state in the nation has also legally protected more than most (as a percentage of total land area).

  21. Given the premise of the article, is it fair to state that rural kids who grow up in families where hunting & fishing are the norm, are more attuned to nature, and, therefore, better adjusted than the child that grows up under house arrest?

    From my experience, I would have to say, “yes.” Although the hunting & fishing kids tend to see nature more from a consumptive standpoint, I’ve witnessed words like “beautiful,” “awesome,” etc. used when describing their quarry.

    Is hunting & fishing, despite it’s consumptive nature, a better pathway to sound child adjustment than formal education which tends to have a far less experiential aspect to it?

  22. What a wonderful article but I would like to echo Sharron’s comments: how do we teach children to respect and appreciate the environment? Even when children are exposed to nature and the natural world, many of them see it as consumers or as a waste of time. Yes, you get the occasional “little poet” but most of them do not see the point. Taking them into nature is not enough. We need to start building connections so that they see the impact they have. Some of us have been preaching this for decades. These kids are our future. If we cannot help them to experience nature and see it as an integral part of their daily lives, whether they are rural or urban dwellers, then these kids may not have planet to live upon in the future.

  23. This article has certainly generated some interesting feedback. We need to find connections for the children. We need to understand the child their likes and dislikes and find the connection in nature. This will satisfy curiosity While developing further questions and wanting to preserve nature.

  24. I found this article incredibly interesting. I am a children’s author and illustrator and mother of 3. It was my growing concern for the environment and the alarming statistics on children’s lack of exposure to the natural world that compelled me to do something to help.
    I wanted to engage children at their level using my skills as an illustrator and author to captivate children in a magical way.
    Marghanita Hughes
    http://www.littlehumbugs.com

  25. I found this article incredibly interesting. I am a children’s author and illustrator

    and mother of 3. It was my growing concern for the environment and the

    alarming statistics on children’s lack of exposure to the natural world that

    compelled me to do something to help.
    I wanted to engage children at their level using my skills as an illustrator and

    author to captivate children in a magical way.
    The Little Humbugs are based on an award winning book series that involves children on a quest to protect our Natural World.

  26. I read all the comments with pleasure, and feel I have something to add. Not only do children need to be ‘taught’ about ‘nature’, which is an active force from another person, but they need the time in nature to explore without intellectual learning, or a deadline, or a project. It seems to be that the achievement of this opportunity for children is a matter of eliminating things, rather than producing more actions. I see parents being afriad to let their children play outside in nature – afraid something will bite them, or scratch them, or ruin their clothes. And I see children embodying these fears. Perhaps this is because something is wrong with the news media, who relate dangerous or fearful things to the exclusion of beautiful things because they believe it sells more – we could start with elimiinating that force in some way. (It would also help our elders, who can become really fearful when their only entertainment is television.) Another ting we could eliminate is the need for parents to ‘schedule’ their children’s activities so they have no time to become creative, or to explore. These things do not need nature, but are enhanced by nature. If a child is scheduled rigidly, creativity and inquiry is diminished, and our species suffers. Finally, because I am a Classical Five-Element acupuncturist (a discipline which balances individuals through the application of natural laws), I believe that knowing oneself as a part of nature give a core strength which maintains the health of the body, the mind and the spirit. Let’s let our children grow in their own time, and in nature!

  27. Wow, I cant believe how many comments have been generated by the one article. Everyone has great ideas. All we can do is do our best. keep adding ideas as everyone has different learning styles and we need to reach as many people as possible.

  28. I would be of the opinion that we as parents and educators have gotten to be really particular about what qualifies as “nature” worthy of our children’s experience. In the era of extravagant vacations to exotic mountain and tropical destinations, we’ve probably neglected to point out the natural habitats that surround most suburban homes. My 4 and 5 y.old are completely enthralled wih watching a sow bug crawl around on their hands, or poking earthworms with a twig. Pulling a minnow out of the creek behind the house sends them over the top.

    Remember too: Before you can get a child interested in natural ecologies, they have to know what it is they are looking at. To do that, it has to be described to them by you, and to do that you need to know what YOU are looking at. That is where I think we’ve lost the link we need. I routinely talk to otherwise successful adults who can’t tell a beech from a birch or a garter snake from a copper head. Get educated and you’ll pull your child into that world with no effort at all. They like nothing better than to name things and will feel special just to have the knowledge entrusted to them. Heck, learn to identify plants and animals together if you want. After that, above all else, leave them alone with no agenda or expectations. Expect them to get hurt. Expect them to get dirty. Expect them to sleep well that night.

    I would also dispute the idea that children who are taught natural systems will be vulnerable to persecution by their peers for being too “sensitive”, or some such. In my childhood, my friends and I were the brigands of the neighborhood. We ruled the vacant lots and scrubby woods where we built our forts and clubhouses. We pushed off in exploration of distant (we thought)locales, bringing back tales our peers could only be jealous of. We were bad asses.

  29. The missing link. As a wildlife rescuer/carer for many years, I’m still amazed at the small amount of knowledge held by people. One lady rang up about a bird that had been sitting in her yard for 2 hours. I questioned the type of bird. It could be a kookaburra she replied and then changed her mind maybe a magpie. A kookaburra is brown and a magpie is black and white. I asked for the colour. She confirmed it was brown. When I got there the bird was grey and a tawny frogmouth. I pleased to report that after a day of rest the bird flew off into the wild again.

  30. This raises the concerning paradigm of technology, expansion, and the age of the internet, mass production, and simplification. It seems that as our capitalistic mindset grows along with our desires to be ‘technologically advanced’, we run into the issue of our children and future generations valuing the artificial over the natural, choosing to be encased inside with their electronics and video games, rather than our natural tendencies to explore and discover our natural surroundings. It’s troubling that our consumer society and fascination with constant global growth has turned our evolutionary connection with nature on its head. It makes you contemplate whether all our societal advancements have actually been positive. Don’t get me wrong, technological improvements have done wonderful things for life, but little is discussed regarding the negative external consequences that we’re starting to be alarmed about…

    just some ideas to contemplate

  31. So ‘what’s so funny about peace, love, and the outdoors, nature, environment, etc

  32. As a wildlife carer, I get many opportunities to show neices and nephews Australian wildlife close up. When they show a real interest Im always quick to note it down as the next birthday present may be a book on that animal or a soft toy etc depending on the age of the child. I have found that my neices and nephews love these presents and know a lot about our native animals as a result. Any other ideas are always welcome.

  33. Someone asked why only one poet was pointed out in the article. Perhaps their was only one in the class or they were the best and most heart felt. But any good writer knows they need to focus on one subject especially in a short article.

  34. We might consider that the distinction between human and non-human is itself false. As the natural world atrophies around us we atrophy. Without the natural context we emerge from our humanness disappears. Wilderness is a misleading and dangerous idea.

  35. We teach that the natural world is a physical manifestation of the divine. All things are created spiritually, first, and then in the physical world. Human beings are, as some have put it, simply spirit beings from premortality having a human experience before they move on in the eternal progression of humankind. There is no contest between science and religion. Science is the physical manifestation of human beings using the God-given power of their intelligence to learn. We were all created in a premortal state, and we all share this time of testing and proving ourselves, and we all pass through the veil eventually to one degree of glory or another. Make the best of it and play outside!

  36. instead of watching the 6oclock news watch the 6oclock sunset. After the rain look for the rainbow.
    Count and identify the birds and animals that visit your backyard/neighbourhood.

  37. This was a very good article, however, not everyone falls into the ambivalence about nature description quite as readily as the author might have us believe. I facilitate and chair a highly successful and influential resource collaborative in Northeaster Arizona. Our Goals, as developed and accepted in 1997 have a final statement that recognizes the integral relationship of human kind with the natural environment. That short statement is appended as follows:
    The Natural Resources Working Group
    Goals Statement

    August 1997

    The greatest potential threat to wildlife habitat and community well being in the White Mountains is uncontrolled wildfire. With current forest conditions, clean air considerations, and other constraints prescribed burning often are not a viable option. Therefore, a broad based collaborative process involving communities, public management agencies, interested parties, and individuals must be developed to provide solutions. This will provide a process that ensures preservation of public safety, property, recreational values, wildlife habitat, and watersheds. Recognizing that humans are an integral part of the environment, the mechanism to accomplish this must include an economic incentive for management processes that will return the forest to a healthy, diverse, sustainable, and viable natural habitat.

    Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of this discussion.

  38. Having had the privilege of growing up in the country of rural upstate New York, I can truly appreciate the author’s recognition of the benefits of nature experiences by human beings. Growing up as a tomboy, I climbed trees, wandered in the forest, rode my bike and picked wild berries to name a few of my own experiences. My parents took my sister & I to camp every year in the Adirondack Mountains in Schroon Lake, N.Y. I’ve said “you can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.” Although my own 4 children grew up in southern California, I’ve done whatever I could to expose them to cultural events, classical music, art, the natural world, and even college field trips. To me, communing with nature is essential; very much a part of me. My kids have gone camping and hiking over the years and we’ve identified insects, birds, local plants and animals and we’ve been very fortunate to live near the Pacific Ocean.

    I think parents have to do what they can without waiting for someone else to organize something although I did appreciate our elementary school’s “Outdoor Ed” trips up to local mountain camps.
    For example, I’ve been taking my youngest son, who is 12, camping on Santa Catalina island for the past 4 years. We’ve even had deer come boldly into our camp! It’s up to us as parents to make sure our children have enriching experiences.

  39. Someone suggested having teachers take their students on weekly nature walks. I am a huge advocate of that, but I can tell you that pacing guides and standardized tests and NCLB requirements mean the death of recess and even physical education, as well as all subjects that lie outside reading, writing, and math in many public schools. Nevermind the fact that getting kids outdoors and active will increase their academic productivity; the state and the nation want them to be test-taking machines, so there’s no room in that equation for nature.

  40. I also feel that we need to hail the positive practices that we are a part of. I agree with Jef and have had similar experiences. For my class the outdoors was our classroom and we had the freedom not to be tied to test scores. But then I actively sought out that teaching environment and became a Montessori guide to put that vision of education in practical terms. That was over thirty years ago. Now, with the lack of jobs in my area I am reinventing myself and networking to find ways of continuing to put individuals in contact with their own nature by connecting them with their own back yards and neighborhoods. We can’t wait for the government to provide these opportunities for us. We need to be true to our natures and do the work in any way that we can. It might mean that seek out a new environment or it might mean that we do it in our free time on weekends. To borrow a quote from Goethe, “Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it.”

  41. Without minimizing the importance of spiritual connections with the wilderness (which I agree with), spending too much time indoors contributes to vitamin D deficiency, since we get most of our vitamin D from sunlight. So, considering only simple physical health, according to Dr. John Cannell, MD, this is what too much time indoors will bring you unless you supplement with vitamin D:
    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/
    “Current research has implicated vitamin D deficiency as a major factor in the pathology of at least 17 varieties of cancer as well as heart disease, stroke, hypertension, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, depression, chronic pain, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, muscle wasting, birth defects, periodontal disease, and more.”
    There are studies linked to from that web site about all those disease relationships, some with stronger evidence, some with weaker evidence. Vitamin D deficiency may also help explain rising autism rates according to Dr. Cannell and others (even at Harvard Medical School).

    Living in the NY Adirondack Park, I agree that access to nature should be a human right, but the remaining wilderness would be destroyed if everyone went there all the time. Thankfully, seriously, we know how to make more land in sea and space, we just don’t have the will yet. We can and should be building space habitats and seasteads to make enough “nature” for everyone. I think that is the one thing wrong with some pitches for nature, like the Nature Conservancy. People are all too willing to say the scale and power of modern technology is so huge that it is destroying nature, but then when someone points out that we also know enough to make enough nature for quadrillions of humans in the solar system, they think that is silly or too expensive. Do we have powerful technologies or not? Granted, it’s generally a lot easier to destroy than to create… But with tens of millions of people out of work, why not create some more terrestrial nature in the oceans and in space?

  42. Expanding on my previous point on creating more “nature” to walk in, another way to create more “nature” is for more people to start enjoying vegetarian cuisine (or, alternatively, lab grown meat) and to then return agricultural lands to wilderness preserves:
    http://www.westernwatersheds.org/watmess/watmess_2002/2002html_summer/article6.htm
    “By far the greatest impact on the American landscape comes not from urbanization but rather from agriculture. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farming and ranching are responsible for 68 percent of all species endangerment in the United States. Agriculture is the largest consumer of water, particularly in the West. Most water developments would not exist were it not for the demand created by irrigated agriculture. If ultimate causes and not proximate causes for species extinction are considered, agricultural impacts would even be higher. Yet scant attention is paid by academicians, environmentalists, recreationists and the general public to agriculture’s role in habitat fragmentation, species endangerment and declining water quality. The ironic aspect of this head-in-the sand approach to land use is that most agriculture is completely unnecessary to feed the nation. The great bulk of agricultural production goes toward forage production used primarily by livestock. A small shift in our diet away from meat could have a tremendous impact on the ground in terms of freeing up lands for restoration and wildlife habitat. It would also reduce the poisoning of our streams and groundwater with pesticides and other residue of modern agricultural practices.”

  43. People may be interested in the success of Albert Lea, MN as a “Bluezone” makeover. Links:
    http://www.bluezones.com/makeover-about
    http://www.albertleatribune.com/news/2009/oct/14/vitality-project-leader-youve-pulled-it/

    By putting in more sidewalks and walking trails to get people walking outdoors in the sunshine, by rethinking menus at local restaurants, and by promoting other initiatives, the town had greatly reduced medical expenses and the overall rate of depression.

    Of course, predictably, with all those benefits, people are now asking who will pay for the sidewalks and their upkeep.

    It’s not a completely misguided question in our society, even as it misses the big picture of the cost savings and increased overall productivity of a less depressed populace. It’s usually sensible to ask, who pays the costs and who gets the benefits? One of the problems with our current approach to health in the USA, involving essentially “sick care” and “sick care insurance” is that there are no incentives for wellness. Even though you might think insurance companies have an incentive to keep people well, since their profits are a percentage of their total revenues, if people got sick half as much, premiums would be force lower, and so insurance companies would get the same percentage of a smaller revenue stream.

    So, that’s one reason why insurance companies have enough money in insurance premiums to build parks and sidewalks in towns, to do medical research, and to to help communities be less depressed through social networking, insurance companies never will beyond a token amount because it does not increase profits under the current system. Also, since not everyone in one town has the same health insurance (or any insurance), how would insurance companies work out the cost-effectiveness of such investments?

    Single payer health care has no such conflict. With single payer, it would make sense for the US Government to invest public moneys in parks and walking trails to reduce overall costs, same as it invests a lot now in medical research.

    Defining access to nature or health as a human right can often cut through these situations where people focus more on the upfront costs than the long-term benefits, or where maximizing short-term profits is in conflict with maximizing human health an happiness. As it is now, it is logical for companies to create crazy inhuman systems of cost-accounting that make perfect sense when you are just counting beans and not counting happiness or lives well lived, such as by having a healthy and poetical relationship to nature.

  44. This story is so true. And I believe that young lady poet will keep the fire burning for the privilege of enjoying the outdoors. I was born and raised in Northern Quebec, where the major past-time was camping and hiking with Boy Scouts, then growing up and retaining my love of the outdoors, a place for sanctuary and peace. Until I was 58 I tented, canoed and hiked winter and summer. Too many children today are captured by technology where the main exercise is twitching fingers and gasping aloud when the figures on their games are wiped out. Thank goodness for the few who return to outside soccer and swings and wrestling on the grass, where grass stains remind us older folks, the circle does go around. My wife and I have written many stories, I also do poetry, and they are outdoor based to remind our grandchildren of how wonderful the outdoors can be.

  45. THe fifth grade “poet” reminded me of taking a picnic and three friends to the “park” that was the divider on Little Neck Pkway. A short walk to the parkway, cross over, “carefully” and we were in a far away place. We were away from mothers, siblings, and reality. We were under the trees, in a land of our own. Too much traffic and 4 lanes changed all that.

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