Let’s Get More Children Outside
in the Woods, in the Water, in the Yard!
Nature is more important than we realize. According to Richard Louv, our children are suffering from Nature-Deficit Disorder. We need to act now. Going outside for a walk with your child is more important than balancing your checkbook, than eating a balanced diet, than going to church. What? Did I just say more important than going to church? Well if you go to church but continue to ignore nature and nature’s significance in our lives then why bother calling yourself a spiritual person if you neglect God’s greatest gift—our world?
We can spend money on computers for our children. We can sign them up for soccer, piano, dance, karate, and accelerated Spanish for pre-schoolers, but if we don’t take them outside to experience nature then why bother with all the other attempts to round out their childhoods? Nature is as important as proper nutrition, exercise, sleep, and reading books, it might even be more important than reading books because some children learn best by doing not listening. We are forgetting how important creative play outside is for our children’s impressionable minds.
We are limiting our children’s minds by allowing them to stay inside where it’s safe and warm. We need to get them outside where it’s wet and wonderful. I loved the 11th suggested action in Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” (p.361) Regardless of the weather, we can get outside nearly everyday with our children. We need to have a stash of old clothes that the children can wear and it’s not only okay for them to get their old clothes dirty but actually recommended. We need to make sure that our children have boots, sneakers, and if you can’t afford snowshoes, make them out of cardboard. See action # 20 in Louv’s book. We need for our children to get up close and personal to mud, snow, rain, brooks, sand, forests, and even a small shady area under an over-hanging tree, where they can sit and listen to the sounds around them; whether it’s the rain, the wind, the birds, or just the sound of the branches; we need our children to experience firsthand about nature and hopefully they will bond early with our planet Earth, and always want to protect it.
Childhood obesity? How is that even possible? Well consider what your child is doing? How much time is spent watching TV? How much time is spent “texting” their friends using their newest pink cell phones? How much time do they spend playing their Play-Station games while drinking high fructose corn syrup in their sodas? I remember one of my favorite days in my childhood. I rode my two-wheeler-bike while my twin sister was on a bike and our friend Ann was on hers. It was a warm summer evening. We were about 12-years-old. After supper we went outside and we took turns being in the lead. We drove our bikes all over our small town in Upstate New York. We stopped occasionally to discuss whose turn it was to lead. But mostly we rode, up hills, down side streets, across parking lots, over rough terrain and curbs, to our school, to our church, past our friends’ houses, over railroad tracks. We were flying with the wind. Eventually we weren’t even aware of our pedaling. It was as if our legs knew what to do. We were riders on a journey. I’m sure that many people who bicycle know what I mean. That was perhaps one of the most enjoyable memorable evenings in my childhood. We were in action. We were creating our experience. We weren’t inside in the play room, or watching a Disney dvd. We were experiencing our planet, the curves, dips, and valleys, and it was wonderful.
In Louv’s book, “new studies suggest that exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and that it can improve all children’s cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression.” (Louv p.35) Today, more children are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorders. But when children are brought outside and there senses are engaged, they are calmer and more attentive. Ansel Adams was hyperactive! His parents noticed that when he was outside, he was more grounded. Imagine that!
Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla, talks about ecstatic memories: that they “require space, freedom, discovery, and ‘an extravagant display for all five senses.” (Louv p.96) “Ecstatic memories give us ‘meaningful images, an internalized core of calm; a sense of integration with nature; and for some, a creative disposition.” (Louv p.96) Many of my favorite childhood memories are going to the family farms and spending the day with my cousins. There was always so much to do! So many animals running around, so many smells, touching horses’ silky noses, long haired dogs, and short haired pigs, the sound of tractors, cows mooing, chickens clucking, the big meals we shared in the house, but we didn’t stay inside long—we swam in the pond while worrying about the turtle that lurked in it! I had so much fun on those farms that I married a farmer. I can tell you with certainty that our four children had a rich home life, with their Dad and Grandpa in the barn milking cows, a huge vegetable garden; even though they love to complain about planting, weeding, picking, and snapping beans! They had a sweet corn stand and used that money to buy themselves school clothes, while learning how to run a small business, how to deal with the public, how to sell quality products. It was hard work to pick the corn but then it was fun to sit in the shade of the apple tree, listening to their radio while waiting for customers. We had a hill that ran from the big hay barn down the driveway and it was great for sledding. We had many soccer, kickball, and basketball games in our yards, and there were even basketball hoops inside the barn. Their high school graduations were all held in our big barn. Our farm provided many wonderful memories spent outside having fun and growing up.
When I think of my ecstatic memories, they are mostly when I was enjoying the great outdoors: picking wild blueberries with Mary Anne and her mom in the Adirondacks, skating on Janet’s homemade ice rink, taking swimming lessons in Lake Titus—that water was cold! 4-H camp was amazing—sitting around campfires, singing songs, learning how to canoe, making friends for life. When I read Louv’s book, it definitely re-enforced my belief in nature and its powers of awe, joy, peace, splendor, calm, excitement, and sacred presence.
I have been taking walks outside everyday since the Adirondack Residency. It’s so odd. I’ve always known the benefits but it’s as though my mind became cloudy. I’m sure it was reading about nature that reinvigorated my psyche. I’m very happy with this course, these books, and this reminder about my loving connections to nature. Not only am I making it my job to go outside for a walk each day but when I baby-sit my grandsons, we go for walks now too! That’s the best. When I am with Nolan who is 3-years-old, and Mitchell who is 2-years-old, I get to inspect the world from their eyes. They love stones, sticks, bugs, puddles, watching geese, listening to sounds. One day someone was using a chain saw. Mitchell stopped in his tracks and with big eyes said, “What’s that noise?” We discussed the possibilities. Then we walked towards the sound and watched as N.Y.S.E.G. was cutting down a tree that was too close to wires. The boys were amazed at the process. We just had our first granddaughter born. She is so beautiful and sweet and has completely taken our hearts. I am looking forward to sharing nature with her.
I have always enjoyed nature but now it’s my job to get other people excited about it!
Louv, Richard. (2005, 2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. New York, NY, USA; Workman Publishing.