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Earth Day: Connect and Commit

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The Importance of Nature in Child Development… Earth Day, is a day to connect and commit to the Earth. Sadly, many children, even children who live in proximity to nature, have never had the experience of connecting with nature. I attended an event at a natural history museum recently at which a docent explained that many of the students who come to visit on school trips have never encountered the insects that live and crawl under rocks. The children thought that the small fish they saw in a California creek were piranhas like ones they had seen on TV. Many had never climbed a tree. Many of the children had never been to the beach of the coastal town in which they live.

Author Richard Louv wrote a book called Last Child in the Woods that has done much to raise awareness of what he calls Nature Deficit Disorder. In his book, Louv explains that parents claim to be too busy to take their children into nature; kids too focused on technology to want to go outside. Most importantly, Louv explains that parents are too afraid of strangers and the risks in nature to feel comfortable letting their children spend time outdoors exploring and playing. He also explains the fact that, ironically, the number of actual occurrences of child abductions in nature has decreased in recent years.

Louv uses the word “wonder” a lot in his book, and talks about the dangers of a society in which children do not experience it. He points to studies that show that children who are not immersed in nature have higher rates of ADD and are less creative. He also discusses nature as a source of spirituality, as playing outside preventative medicine against obesity, and nature’s capacity to relieve stress in children.

Louv’s book is convincing. Children should be immersed in nature frequently and regularly. Exposing a child to nature does not need to be a big undertaking. Parents do not necessarily need to roll up their sleeves and take the kids backpacking for a week. It can be as simple as a picnic or an afternoon walk in the woods. It can be allowing your child to climb a tree in your own backyard, or a trip to a natural history museum. It can be as small as planting a vegetable or herb garden in a pot and watching and caring for the tiny shoots that come from seeds. All of these things have the potential of giving a child that moment of wonder. The rest– nature conservation, awareness, stewardship—will come easily once a child has had the chance to discover and connect with nature.

In my experience, children are natural environmentalists. When given the opportunity and encouragement, their connection to the natural world is immediate and intense, and they naturally commit to protecting and preserving what they love and what they inherently understand as a source of life.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

April 11, 2015

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