If children lose contact with nature, they won’t fight for it

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With half of their time spent at screens, the next generation will be poorly equipped to defend the natural world from harm. The Guardian’s George Monbiot

One woe doth tread upon another’s heel, So fast they follow“. That radical green pressure group PriceWaterhouseCoopers warns that even if the present rate of global decarbonisation were to double, we would still be on course for 6C of warming by the end of the century. Confining the rise to 2C requires a sixfold reduction in carbon intensity: far beyond the scope of current policies.

A new report shows that the UK has lost 20% of its breeding birds since 1966: once common species such as willow tits, lesser spotted woodpeckers and turtle doves have all but collapsed; even house sparrows have fallen by two thirds. Ash dieback is just one of many terrifying plant diseases, mostly spread by trade. They now threaten our oaks, pines and chestnuts.

So where are the marches, the occupations, the urgent demands for change? While the surveys show that the great majority would like to see the living planet protected, few are prepared to take action. This, I think, reflects a second environmental crisis: the removal of children from the natural world. The young people we might have expected to lead the defence of nature have less and less to do with it.

We don’t have to disparage the indoor world, which has its own rich ecosystem, to lament children’s disconnection from the outdoor world. But the experiences the two spheres offer are entirely different. There is no substitute for what takes place outdoors; not least because the greatest joys of nature are unscripted. The thought that most of our children will never swim among phosphorescent plankton at night, will never be startled by a salmon leaping, a dolphin breaching, the stoop of a peregrine, or the rustle of a grass snake is almost as sad as the thought that their children might not have the opportunity.

The remarkable collapse of children’s engagement with nature – which is even faster than the collapse of the natural world – is recorded in Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, and in a report published recently by the National Trust. Since the 1970s the area in which children may roam without supervision has decreased by almost 90%. In one generation the proportion of children regularly playing in wild places in the UK has fallen from more than half to fewer than one in 10. In the US, in just six years (1997-2003) children with particular outdoor hobbies fell by half. Eleven- to 15-year-olds in Britain now spend, on average, half their waking day in front of a screen.

There are several reasons for this collapse: parents’ irrational fear of strangers and rational fear of traffic, the destruction of the fortifying commons where previous generations played, the quality of indoor entertainment, the structuring of children’s time, the criminalisation of natural play. The great indoors, as a result, has become a far more dangerous place than the diminished world beyond.

The rise of obesity, rickets and asthma and the decline in cardio-respiratory fitness are well documented. Louv also links the indoor life to an increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other mental ill health. Research conducted at the University of Illinois suggests that playing among trees and grass is associated with a marked reduction in indications of ADHD, while playing indoors or on tarmac appears to increase them. The disorder, Louv suggests, “may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature”. Perhaps it’s the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses”, she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”.

Studies in several nations show that children’s games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection. The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photos of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.

Forest SchoolsOutward BoundWoodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for AdventureNatural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together. But all of them are fighting forces which, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstasy – in the true sense of that word – that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds.


CHILDREN AND NATURE : Richard Louv’s ‘The Nature Principle’

The immediacy of Richard Louv‘s message in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder galvanized an international movement to reconnect children with nature. Now, in The Nature Principle, Louv reaches even further with a powerful call to action for the rest of us.

9-6-12_Chena_RLouv2 (Photo credit: Marion J. Patterson)

Our society, says Louv, has developed such an outsized faith in technology that we have yet to fully realize or even adequately study how human capacities are enhanced through the power of nature. Supported by groundbreaking research, anecdotal evidence, and compelling personal stories, Louv shows us how tapping into the restorative powers of the natural world can boost mental acuity and creativity; promote health and wellness; build smarter and more sustainable businesses, communities, and economies; and ultimately strengthen human bonds. As he says in his introduction, The Nature Principle is “about the power of living in nature—not with it, but in it. We are entering the most creative period in history. The twenty-first century will be the century of human restoration in the natural world.”

Richard Louv makes a convincing case that through a nature-balanced existence—driven by sound economic, social, and environmental solutions—the human race can and will thrive. This timely, inspiring, and important work will give readers renewed hope while challenging them to rethink the way we live.

November 2008 cover of Nature Materials
November 2008 cover of Nature Materials (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Outdoor Classroom – reconnecting children and their environment

Fighting ADHD, Nature Deficit Disorder and over-use of technology – by having children to  engage with their surroundings. Compiled by Henricus Peters, NAEEUK Co-Chair

Every program of early care and education has an outdoor environment and some outdoor activities – but often not enough.

The Outdoor Classroom Project, conducted by the Child Educational Center (CEC), was initially funded from 2003 to 2008 by First 5 LA, in Los Angeles County, to disseminate the philosophy and practice of outdoor programming and environments as critical elements of a quality program of early care and education.

Its primary focus is now in Santa Barbara County, supported through the Orfalea Fund. Grounded in a century of theory, practice and research, this project was developed in response to the dramatic deterioration of children’s outdoor activity in contemporary America.

The goal of the Outdoor Classroom is to increase the quantity, quality and benefit of children’s outdoor experience.View or download the Outdoor Classroom Project summary flyer.

The comprehensive Outdoor Classroom model addresses at least seven of the critical issues facing young children today:

Children and Nature USA : Campaigns to Get Children Outdoors Make Progress

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Three times more children and youth getting outdoors in nature from 2009 to 2011—some good from Children & Nature Network (C&NN) survey! 

The 2011 Children & Nature Network (C&NN) survey of grassroots leaders of regional, statewide and provincial campaigns shows a three-fold increase in the number of children and youth getting outdoors in nature from 2009 to 2011—from one million to three million annually

The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) reported in USA Today, “A back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors is burgeoning nationwide.” The latest survey with data from 2011 provides additional support for that statement.

Reasons for the growth and urgency of this movement include the epidemic of childhood obesity, reports of diminished creativity, increases in behavior disorders, increased time using electronic media, and sedentary behavior among children and youth—all of which are associated with reduced time for learning and play outdoors in nature as a part of children’s everyday lives. Research indicates that children tend to be healthier, happier and smarter when direct experiences in nature are a frequent and regular part of their childhood.

Compared to baseline results established in 2009, the Children & Nature Network 2011 Grassroots Leadership Survey shows significant increases in the numbers of children and youth getting outdoors in nature as a result of the efforts of the Network and its members, including regional, statewide and provincial campaigns to connect children, families and communities to nature. Commissioned by C&NN with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the survey results are analyzed and reported by an independent evaluator, Dr. Lynette Fleming.

Leaders of these campaigns reported that the number of children and youth annually engaged in nature-based outdoor activities and experiences has tripled since 2009 to an estimated 3 million youth in 2011. In 2011, C&NN campaigns and partners reported engaging up to 1.2 million underserved youth in community garden projects (up from 176,600 in 2009); 856,000 in natural play areas (up from 316,1000 in 2009); and 1.6 million in school gardens/habitat projects (up from 401,500 in 2009). Among the many findings, survey participants report increased:
• awareness of the importance of nature for children’s healthy development,
• participation by pediatricians and health care providers,
• educational benefits,
• community support, and
• development of places to play and learn outdoors in nature.

Seventy-eight campaigns completed the 2011 survey. As of May 10, 2012, there are 103 campaigns registered on the C&NN web site.

“While we still have much work to do to reverse the trends of the last 30 years in which children are increasingly sedentary and disconnected from playing and learning in nature, this progress is exciting and an indication of momentum,” said Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., President and CEO of the Children & Nature Network.

“These findings are encouraging, including the increase in the number of under served youth who are having nature-based play and learning experiences. However, barriers remain, and some are growing,” said Richard Louv, C&NN co-founder and Chairman Emeritus. “As of 2008, more people in the world live in cities than in rural areas. So we need a broader, deeper movement – one that transforms cities into incubators of biodiversity and human health. This movement isn’t about going back to nature; it’s about going forward to nature. Every child needs nature, not only those whose parents love the outdoors.”

Louv and Charles praised the young people, parents, grandparents, physicians, teachers, community leaders, urban planners and others leading the international movement to reduce what, in his book “Last Child in the Woods,” Louv called “our society’s nature-deficit disorder.”

Since its founding in 2006, The Children & Nature Network has been advocating for children, their families and communities to enhance their health and well-being through direct experiences in nature. C&NN’s vision is a world in which all children play, learn and grow with nature in their everyday lives. The Children & Nature Network is leading a movement to connect all children, their families and communities to nature through innovative ideas, evidence-based resources and tools, broad-based collaboration and support of grassroots leadership. C&NN provides a wide range of research and user- friendly tools, including those to enhance positive family bonding and access to fun, friendly nature-based activities.

To see the full Survey Report DOWNLOAD a copy of the Report here or go to:


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‘Nature deficit disorder’ at Hay Festival 2012: Children are deprived of access to the countryside

Children in the United Kingdom are as deprived as Victorian urchins with their lack of access to green spaces – with computer games and television causing ‘Nature deficit disorder‘, coined by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and ‘Children and Nature Network’ founder.

Fiona Reynolds, Director General of the National Trust, said modern children were as deprived as Victorian urchins with their lack of access to green spaces.

She said that while most children have enough to eat, they do not have access to the outdoors environment, blaming computer games and television for contributing to the problem.

“We have moved on materially but whether we have moved on in terms of those unquantifiable benefits from being outdoors is questionable,” she said.

“There is a different kind of deprivation today. It may not be as obvious as having nothing to eat.

“Children are deprived of the experience of being outside, which not only affects physical health but emotional and mental wellbeing.”

Dame Fiona is speaking this weekend at The Telegraph Hay Festivalalongside Simon Jenkins, Chairman of the Trust.

The Trust is celebrating the centenary of the death of Octavia Hill, who set up the National Trust to try and help poor people in 19th Century.

Dame Fiona said the countryside is under threat from development, following a controversial change in planning laws, just as it was after the industrial revolution.

Last year the Trust led a high-profile campaign against proposals to change the planning system, which they said would have left large areas of countryside vulnerable to development.

Dame Fiona said green spaces need to be protected from development while new buildings should factor in access to parks and gardens.

The Trust is trying to improve access to the countryside by encouraging people to take up activities like walking or adventure sports on their own properties and by providing allotments.

There are also programmes to get schools and young people visiting farms and to teach children about the outdoors, including simple things like just skimming a stone or climbing a tree.

Dame Fiona pointed out that a quarter of children have never been to the countryside.

She added: “In theory it is possible to get outdoors but the truth is the actual experience people have of nature is still pretty limited. There is still an urgency to improve access to the countryside.”

Source : http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/9321351/Hay-Festival-2012-Children-are-deprived-of-access-to-the-countryside-warns-National-Trust.html