Some of the fondest memories of childhood are my dad and I fishing. Just him and I, a couple of fishing rods and the river. No radio, no DVD, no TV.
If we didn’t catch a fish, it wasn’t a problem. Those trips were adventures for me and I believe helped cultivate my awe of nature. They are also among my earliest memories of being concerned about pollution, in the form of trash that would be along the river bank.
I was also privileged to live next to a forest for much of my childhood. When I was old enough, I was allowed to play there. Times were different, no doubt about that.
It’s a shame that so many children today don’t get these learning opportunities and most of their nature education occurs via a screen.
TV – Environmental Friend And Foe
TV documentaries can be great thing for many age groups – for example, Sir David Attenborough’s various series over the last few decades where he lets the animals and stunning camera work do most of the talking. Sir David’s “Life On Earth” series in the early 80’s was one of my TV viewing highlights of the week.
For children too young to venture out, TV can certainly be a positive influence environmentally speaking. I distinctly remember Sesame Street’s “Willie Wimple” song about pollution from the 1970’s impacting on me. Even though over 35 years has passed, I still remember many of the words :).
Unfortunately, nature documentaries and such these days are too often focused on computer animations and the “whoa!” factor – more fluff than substance. Not everything has to be an adrenalin hit and I’m dubious as to whether the jaded kids of today actually respond to it; or even absorb it when delivered in this way.
Regardless of programming quality; the best way to learn about nature is hands-on; whether it’s in a local park, or out the back of beyond.
Nature Deficit Disorder
A UK report released this year found less than ten per cent of kids today play in wild places; down from 50 per cent a generation ago. The Natural Childhood report states the UK’s population is increasingly exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’.
A definition of Nature Deficit Disorder from the man who coined the phrase, Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods”:
“Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
The Natural Child report discusses the harm done by Nature Deficit Disorder and the many benefits of allowing children between the ages of seven and 12 the freedom to explore the natural world.
Connecting with nature – or destroying it?
It’s more than just allowing kids to explore the great outdoors though – it’s how it’s done that counts too.
I’ve just spent 4 days (again) enduring the sound of kids and their incredibly clueless, inconsiderate parents running around and around their bush blocks on noisy dirt bikes; basically burning gas for giggles and making sure everyone and everything within a two mile radius knew about it. Somehow they equate this activity with getting back to nature.
Sure, they may be outside, but they aren’t only missing out on *really* connecting to nature through their dirt bike riding, they are damaging it. They’ve chewed up roads and tracks, created tracks where none are meant to be, scared the heck out of animals that have then run in a blind panic into fences, generated hours and hours of noise pollution, wasted fuel, spewed emissions and other pollutants etc. etc. etc. – the list really does go on.
I’ve talked to some of these kids (and their parents) over the last couple of years, attempting to convey to them the marvels of the creatures and plants in the area and more subtly (sometimes, not so), their sensitivity to human interference. They nod and smile and appear to get the idea, then get back on their bikes again to continue their destruction.
While getting kids to properly connect with nature doesn’t mean they should be forced to undertake a vow of silence, don burlap sacks and sleep under the stars using rocks as pillows, it shouldn’t involve excessive noise and destruction, nor be heavily dependent on technology. It should be an engaging experience, one that forces the senses and body to be used in a way they often aren’t in our lives.
If the next generation only sees nature as something cool on a very fleeting and shallow level; as something easily trumped by or viewed via a noisy internal combustion engine or gadgets; then the planet is in even bigger trouble than we realise.
I’ll end this article with a couple of quotes included in the “Natural Child” report – the document is well worth reading and can be downloaded here (PDF). Both of these quotes are from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods:
“For a new generation, nature is more abstraction than reality. Increasingly, nature is something to watch, to consume, to wear – to ignore.”
“If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered species: the child in nature.”