The power of the outdoors : Richard Louv provides some hope

Just a few decades ago, children spent their weekends hunting for bugs, making forts and getting dirt under their fingernails. But then came 24-hour cartoon networks. The Children & Nature Network has some ideas

“When kids who have very little really experience the power of the great outdoors, it can change their whole lives.” How does a boy whose family lived in a tool shed in South Central Los Angeles grow up to be a national leader, invited to the White House, and driven to change an entire generation’s relationship with nature? Ask Juan Martinez. “My parents exemplified the values they preached to me—get an education, nurture your family, strive to do better.” But reality on the street was teaching him a very different lesson. “In my neighborhood it was gang members who succeeded,…

Just a few decades ago, children spent their weekends hunting for bugs, making forts and getting dirt under their fingernails.

But then came 24-hour cartoon networks, interactive video games and texting. And just like that, kids stopped going outside.

“San Diego is one of the most wildly diverse places in the world, and kids are not having experiences in nature,” said local author Richard Louv. “They learn about nature in school — they can tell you all about the Amazon Rain Forest — but they don’t know what’s living in their own backyard.”

Louv, a former columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune, wrote “Last Child in the Woods — Saving Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” a book that helped spark a national movement to get families back to nature. His findings about the large disconnect between kids and nature also served as the inspiration behind Saturday’s Family Nature Days in Del Mar.

“Millions of cars drive by here every year,” said project spokeswoman Kelly Sarber. “And most don’t realize that there are all these species of birds and fish and plants right in front of them.”

To bring more awareness to nature and the wetlands, nature-themed booths were set up along the newly restored trail. And despite the windy weather, families spent a morning having unplugged inquisitive fun.

Kids looked at fish eggs through a microscope. They used chopsticks as beaks and tried to pick up fish the way a bird would. They made bug-themed necklaces. They sorted plastic butterflies and worms into “insect” and “not an insect” bins.

And when they stepped away from the planned activities, Red-winged Blackbirds could be spotted flying across the sky.

It was just what La Mesa mother Cristal Ghitman was there to find.

“We’re here because there’s no electronic stimuli. The kids have to find their own thing to do,” Ghitman said, as her two sons played with sticks and rocks. “We’re always rushing around during the week, so it’s nice to slow down, go outside and spend quality time in nature.”

She said her family does a lot of hiking, camping and kayaking on the weekends.

Louv said that’s not the norm.

“San Diego does have a lot of outdoor space but that doesn’t necessarily means kids are going out more,” he said. “Even children in rural areas are staying indoors. Child obesity is growing twice as fast for these kids because they aren’t out doing farm chores. They’re watching TV, playing video games and traveling longer distances to play dates.”

Louv’s message struck a chord with Scripps Ranch mother Janice Swaisgood. To combat “nature-deficit disorder,” she co-founded Family Adventures in Nature, a group that meets a few times a month for exploration trips in local canyons and trails.

“Kids are over-scheduled and they don’t have time to just be,” she said. “Children are happier, healthier and smarter when they’re engaged in nature.”


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