GET YOUR KIDS OUTSIDE IN WENATCHEE THIS SPRING
Life was more fun when I was a kid. It was the 1980’s and I lived in an apple orchard. After school, I walked home alone. While I waited for mom to get home from work, I climbed trees and crawled through tunnels that had formed in the evergreen bushes. In the summer, I often walked or rode a bike a few blocks into town where a stand of cottonwoods and aspens grew wild behind the city park. There I pretended I was a jungle scientist, studying the calls of birds. It was a profound experience; all my senses open to the world around me.
When I tell these stories to my own kid, his eyes grow wide in wonder. He thinks it must have been a very long time ago that I was a child. Did we have phones? Cars? It’s difficult for him to imagine a world where kids were allowed to run free in nature.
Today, children are aware of global environmental threats that we were only beginning to understand when I was young. They speak intelligently on issues of global warming and clean energy. They worry about protecting biodiversity. But take these kids outside and they don’t know where the sun will set. They’ve never rested in tall grasses or been quiet long enough to hear the birds. As the intimate bond between children and the natural world breaks, nature itself becomes an abstraction, something to be studied in classrooms or consumed as content on a screen.
Our very society teaches kids to avoid experience in nature. From city codes to homeowner association rules, from the removal of playground equipment to strict parameters guiding play on school grounds, kids learn to associate outdoor environments with danger, injury and personal liability. They can no longer spend time in public parks alone for fear of human predators, and parents who encourage this kind of play risk accusations of neglect. Allowing children to explore and test natural environments has been criminalized.
So where does this leave the children? At home they are consumers of endless media content and video games. In education, both public and private, they are often seen as empty vessels to be filled with a series of unrelated facts, no matter that they have little opportunity to observe or test these facts in the real world. They are over tested, overscheduled, and under constant, direct adult supervision. Their world is narrow and structured, hardly the place for deep learning, inner stillness, or creativity.
But not all is lost. A new movement has arisen in recent years, with the goal of reconnecting children to local natural environments. Combatting the idea of “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a term coined by writer Richard Louv in 2005, this movement is based on a growing body of research that points to the positive benefits of nature in the everyday lives of children. Attention and learning, along with physical, mental, and spiritual health, are all affected by exposure to the natural world. While digital content presented on a screen narrows the senses, nature opens them, allowing children to make connections across subject matter, develop creative solutions to unique problems in our communities and maintain a sense of spiritual wonder that fosters compassion and caring. Our children are the future scientists, engineers, philosophers, and artists of the world. How we raise them to think about nature will shape our cities, homes and the way we live in our daily lives. Getting your child outside could literally save your world.