Saturday, April 21, 2007

Children and nature

I spoke to a class of Health & Recreation Management students the other evening. They share my alarm at the growing gap between children and nature, as kids increasingly mirror an attitude noted by Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods, 2005) in a recent Orion Magazine essay: "I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are."

Louv: Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience their neighborhoods and the natural world has changed radically. Even as children and teenagers become more aware of global threats to the environment, their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading... In a typical week, only 6 percent of children ages nine to thirteen play outside on their own... Even bike riding is down 31 percent since 1995. In San Diego 90 percent of inner-city kids do not know how to swim; 34 percent have never been to the beach. In suburban Fort Collins, Colorado, teachers shake their heads in dismay when they describe the many students who have never been to the mountains visible year-round on the western horizon.

We're raising unhealthy kids who don't consider themselves a part of the natural world. That's suicidal. Tempting as it is to blame video games et al, the responsibility for this state of affairs rests finally with the adults who don't take the time to play, swim, bike, hike etc. with their children; and with those who cancel recess in the misbegotten crusade to "leave no children behind."

Kurt Vonnegut wanted our newest humans to learn one rule: be kind. I'd add a second: be active.

It's the weekend, and it's spring: turn off your computer, confiscate the nintendos, "throw away your TV," go outside and play!

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