By Daphne Solecki
There is a new concern for parents as they think about their children’s upbringing. Happily it is a concern that is easily addressed in ways that are enjoyable for the whole family.
When they look back on their childhood days, most of today’s parents and grandparents will remember the freedom of outdoor experiences—playing in a nearby vacant lot, catching frogs in a pond, mucking about on the beach, exploring the woods, camping in the garden, building a tree fort, growing their own vegetable plot, keeping rabbits and guinea pigs in the backyard, even just walking to school on their own.
Life has changed dramatically in the last decades, and these are no longer common experiences for today’s children, especially urban children. Too often children now do most of their experiencing and exploring on-line; they can roam the world, but only as viewers, not participants.
Many parents and teachers have heard the term “nature deficit disorder”. This phrase was coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods as a shorthand way to describe the lack of nature experience in the lives of today’s children. More and more, the vital role that experiences in nature play in character and personality development is being appreciated by parents and teachers alike.
For about 1.5 million years of evolution, the lives of humans were intimately intertwined with nature. The challenges and opportunities of the natural world determined our livelihood, demanded our physical interaction, provided our pleasure and inspiration. This close relationship with nature shaped our lives in every way, so it is no wonder that suddenly being cut off from this relationship has a profound effect on children (and adults). Diminished problem-solving skills, inability to amuse themselves, increases in obesity and attention deficit disorder are linked to lack of free imaginative outdoor play.
It is recognized now that being out of doors for a period of time every day—not in organized sports activities but freely playing—helps children develop and learn with all their senses, sharpens their concentration, develops their curiosity, and improves their overall mental and physical health.
In the long term—in addition to these benefits—immersion in nature plays an equally vital part in increasing children’s understanding of the natural world and the living things that share planet Earth. As Robert Bateman has said, “We live in a society where youth recognize 1,000 corporate logos but fewer than 10 species of wildlife found in their communities. Having children learn local species’ names and characteristics will create increased awareness and understanding for wildlife, which will in turn instil increased empathy for their well being.” This understanding is the necessary first step in developing a child’s future role as a responsible citizen caring for the Earth.
The need to re-connect children and nature is being widely recognized and parents can find many enjoyable routes to providing their children, and the family as a whole, with outdoor activities. For parents wondering where to start their search for nature experiences in an urban environment there is plenty of help available.
The evidence is in. Playing in nature makes children happier, healthier and smarter. It is as important for their overall development as music or sports and much easier to achieve—go for a walk in the woods and share your child’s inborn fascination with nature; find out who your “wild neighbours” are; work with your child’s school to green its grounds; join your local Young Naturalists’ Club and explore nearby nature with other families. These simple actions will reap great rewards for the whole family and for the future of the planet. Summer is a great time to start!
Daphne Solecki is the president of the Young Naturalists’ Club of British Columbia.
Young Naturalists’ Club of British Columbia: 30 community-based clubs throughout B.C. (including Vancouver, North Vancouver, Stanley Park, Tri-Cities, Langley, Surrey, Mission, Chilliwack, Victoria) offer local monthly field trips for families.
Parks and Nature Places Around Vancouver, by Nature Vancouver (Harbour Publishing): 60 destinations accessible by public transit and bike, with nature information on each site.
Easy Hikes and Walks of Southwestern British Columbia, by Dawn Hanna (Lone Pine): Chosen especially for families.