The Outdoors as a “World of Wonder” for Children

From Scientific America…

Ten families hiked into Davidson College Ecological Preserve on a bright Saturday morning to get a glimpse of the kudzu-eating goats, usually off-limits to the public. The outing was part of an environmental education program, World of Wonder (WOW!), a partnership of the Davidson Lands Conservancy (DLC) and Woodland Discovery, a non-profit nature program in Cornelius, NC.

The goats were no doubt the initial attraction for families that signed up for the free program, but children were greeted by WOW! Volunteers with recipes for Kudzu salsa, candy, and jellies, along with bags to collect their fill of Kudzu leaves along the way. Immediately darting from vine to vine, choosing only the smallest, most flavorful leaves, one six-year-old girl exclaimed, “this is like free salsa!”

Happily, the kids were receiving a hands-on lesson in invasive plant identification, as the guide pointed out other invasive species like English ivy, wisteria, and Japanese privet, whose seeds are spread primarily by birds. “The reason that these open spaces have a lot of invasives,” explained Irvin Brawley, who worked as Director of Grounds for Davidson College for 40 years before retiring, “is because it’s a great flyway for birds.”

Once they reached the goats rented by Davidson College to graze on five acres of out of control kudzu, the kids saw the sheer growing power of the vine (one foot per day) verses the eating power of the goats (15-20 lbs of kudzu per day). “This is just the start of Davidson College trying to control kudzu sustainably,” said Brawley.

Like the goats, the kids quickly found new uses for kudzu. Several boys began to swing like young Tarzans from a lush, robust vine. Others pulled down dried kudzu vines to weave into small wreaths with the help of their parents. One boy was determined to fill his bag for that night’s dinner, while exclaiming “it smells like asparagus!”

The effect of the outing was different from most educational tours I’ve experienced – the children were encouraged to not only see and listen, but to touch, smell, and eventually taste nature in all its wonder. In just one hour, I watched children interact with peers and family in the outdoors without fear of the unknown, and they learned naturally and in the best way possible – without even realizing it.

Part of the success of the program is groups are kept small, 15-20 people, to allow for a more intimate learning experience and connection with nature. The idea is working, as there is usually a wait-list for families eager to participate in the program.

“Everybody gains,” explains Pam Dykstra, DLC President. “Parents are empowered because they’re learning with their children, and it becomes a bonding experience because they’re sharing the natural world with their children.”

A Childhood Reality: Nature Deficit Disorder

The concept that people, specifically today’s children, are increasingly suffering from “nature-deficit disorder” stems from Richard Louv, the author of “Last Child in the Woods.” Louv explains that the term was not meant to be a formal diagnosis in his 2009 blog post in Psychology Today. “Nature-deficit disorder is not a formal diagnosis, but a way to describe the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years,” he writes.

The problem stems from the increasingly indoor, controlled and/or sanitized lifestyles that modern families lead. The environments where children live, learn, and play all have an effect on mood, growth, and overall health and well-being. With the rising rates of childhood obesity and attention deficit disorder, two problems linked to sedentary lifestyle and increased use of electronics, now is the time for parents to get their kids out of the house.

Moreover, a recent study shows the stakes are even higher. Researchers at Sydney University reported that excessive TV watching causes retinal damage in children and leads to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes in adulthood. The study also found such effects could be reversed through increased physical activity – like playing outside.

A Natural Partnership

Understanding that not all people are nature buffs able to travel for miles to nature preserves or state parks, DLC identified the need to not only preserve natural areas and make them accessible to people, but to educate families about the value of natural areas in their hometowns and backyards. The partnership with Woodland Discovery was a natural one, as they were already providing outdoor summer camps and nature programs to preschoolers and homeschoolers.

Carolyn Walker, Director of Woodland Discovery, organizes the WOW! educational booth at the Davidson Farmer’s Market, which stays busy with families participating in the latest environmental craft, activity, or concept – from solar ovens to flower printing. Last Saturday there was a line of children waiting to see a cloud of tadpoles and take some home, but only if they promised to release the frogs back into their original habitat.

Overall, Walker has seen an increase in families bringing their children to the market this year. “We have a hardcore following of families that come every weekend, and then others are pleasantly surprised there is something for kids to be interested in,” she said.

The idea that nature has an amazing potential to inspire and motivate people, specifically children, is not a new one. What stayed with me as the WOW! outing ended is the belief that similar outdoor experiences can and must be shared with children, so that future generations will care enough to save the little wild places that fondly remind us of our own childhoods.

Photos by: Patti McKinnon.

About the Author: Lilly Vicens is a freelance writer, nature enthusiast, and volunteer with the Davidson Lands Conservancy and Lake Norman Wildlife Conservationists. Her science writing has been published by Coastwatch Magazine, StormwaterMagazine, and the Watershed Education Network. Vicens holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Natural Resources, Ecosystems Assessment from North Carolina State University.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those ofScientific American.


Good news for ‘Environmental education’ : Graduates must be ‘green’

Students watching birds at Nador Lagoon
Image via Wikipedia

Maryland has become the first state in the country to require students to be “environmentally literate” in order to graduate from high school.

The vote by the Maryland board of education requires that students get a “comprehensive, multi-disciplinary environmental education” before receiving a diploma. Districts will have to develop plans for coursework that meets state standards in environmental literacy and have their plans approved by the state superintendent of schools. They will also have to develop ways to assess students’ mastery of the material in order to determine if they are eligible for graduation.

The action today follows a decision by the board last summer to require that students get a bigger dose of environmental literacy than they had been getting in typical science classes. There was some confusion, however, about whether that action actually made environmental literacy a graduation requirement. Today’s vote was intended to clear up that confusion and make the requirement official.

Is there life on earth after Attenborough?

David Attenborough
Image by Bryan Ledgard via Flickr

n the beginning there was the word, and the word was with Attenborough, and the word was Attenborough. As an evolutionary scientist, Sir David Attenborough may laugh at the biblical allusion, but he has certainly had an instrumental role in creating our modern perception of the world. For not only did Life on Earth, his landmark 13-part 1979 natural history series, change our relationship with television, it also transformed our understanding of nature and the planet at large.

Tim Scoones, who is executive producer of populist wildlife showSpringwatch, is in no doubt of the legacy of Life on Earth and its countless imitators. “It has been significant in reconnecting an increasingly disconnected human population with the environment of the planet that we not only come from but also rely on,” he says.

There had been other grand-scale documentary series before, such as Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski‘s The Ascent of Man, both of which Attenborough commissioned when he was the controller of BBC2 from 1965-69. But his own spectacular treatise on evolution enjoyed a different level of universal appeal.

With its extraordinary wildlife images and its compelling story of life from algae to humanity, Life on Earth spoke to all ages and cultures, gaining an estimated global audience of 500 million. The moment in which Attenborough encountered a female mountain gorilla in Rwanda remains one of the most celebrated scenes in the history of television. “There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know,” he ad-libbed, and we found ourselves confronting the reality of our close ancestry, not in uplands of Rwanda, but on the sofas of our homes.

The series was the benchmark against which all other large-scale documentary television would thereafter be judged, and it marked the point at which ecological and environmental awareness moved out of obscure meeting rooms and into the world’s sitting rooms. This was a critical development, because without taking up any kind of political stance, Attenborough re-engaged overwhelmingly urban populations with the natural environments in which most of the world’s non-human inhabitants live.

Since then natural history has evolved through a process of natural selection and adaptation into a multiplicity of species in a variety of habitats. There is, for example, the Nat Geo Wild channel. Here is an environment that would probably not have existed had it not been for that burst of life from Life on Earth. Now, in consequence, it sustains celebrity fauna like Great Migrations with Stephen Fry, as well as more unfamiliar designations such as Shark MenTiger Man and, of course, My Dog Ate What?

There has also been diverse proliferation on that giant continental shelf, the BBC, where The Truth About Lions and Wild Night In feature among the scores of nature programmes that have been screened in recent years. Springwatch has mutated into AutumnwatchAutumnwatch Unsprung and even Snow Watch, all of which draw audiences of around 2 to 3 million people.

However, the big beasts remain the epic series such as Human Planet, which gained figures of 5.3 million, and a 20% audience share, and specials like Polar Bears: Spy on the Ice, which 5.5 million watched. These programmes seem to plug into an elemental curiosity that is shared by all age groups and classes.

Attenborough himself was responsible for many of these programmes, including The Living PlanetThe Trials of Life and The Life of Mammals. He also provided the narration (for British audiences) on The Blue Planet and, arguably the culmination of the genre, 2007’s Planet Earth.

The first series to be filmed in high definition, Planet Earth is the most expensive nature documentary the BBC has ever made. Not that the BBC was the only funder. Such is the cost of these kinds of undertakings, in which a cameraman may spend hundreds of hours waiting to capture an endangered species in its habitat, that they are pre-sold to partners such as America’s Discovery channel.

Spreading the investment in this manner has enabled the BBC to maintain its position at the leading edge of technology, delivering breathtaking images of cinematic breadth and forensic precision. The question now is: where can the natural sciences go from here on television? Over the past 32 years, every conceivable aspect and area of the planet has been documented in increasingly vivid detail. It’s likely that the quality of filming will continue to improve, but there is a limit to what there is to film. The new frontiers look set to be technological rather than geographical.

Tim Scoones believes producers will continue to attempt to top previous feats and cites the forthcoming Frozen Planet as an example of that ambition. “The Planet Earth team has gone to the ends of the earth,” he says. “This could be a document of a world that may not exist for much longer.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Scoones suggests the future could be based on the model of more locally focused programmes such as Springwatch, which he says Attenborough himself picked out as representing the first major development in natural history broadcasting since Life on Earth. “It’s a deeper dive into knowledge broadcasting than those big nature polemics,” says Scoones.

This may be true, but it’s hard to imagine that such a steady, unfolding view of nature will ever capture the global imagination in the way that the monumental series, with all their exotic magnificence, have achieved. As Scoones agrees, a vital component of their success has been the sense of awe they inspire, which is a vanishingly rare commodity in the secular, postmodern world.

“One of the things we get back from audience research, particularly with the big pieces we do in natural history, is that viewers feel small and unimportant,” says Kim Shilling-law, the BBC commissioner for Science and Natural History. “In lots of ways you’d think that would be a negative response. You wouldn’t put it top of your list of how you’d want to feel today. But clearly it is an emotionally rewarding experience. Something about being placed in a bigger context is very powerful for the audience.”

Someone who instinctively understands this desire for a transcendent experience is Brian Cox, the youthful-looking professor of particle physics who has almost single-handedly revolutionised science on television. If Attenborough proves irreplaceable in nature, then Cox is busy taking up his mantle in science.

Traditionally, as Shillinglaw notes, the science audience has been characterised by its intellectual curiosity and the natural history audience by its expectation of emotional engagement. What was evident in Cox’s recent series  Wonders of the Solar System and Wonders of the Universe was the clear intention to combine the two, simultaneously appealing to the heart and the mind.

Cox identifies Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, first broadcast in 1980, as an early inspiration and influence on his approach to science and ultimately broadcasting. “For me, one of the most powerful elements of the programme was the attempt to convey the underlying emotional attraction in the whole endeavour. You’ve got to remember that science is an emotional pursuit.”

Cutting his teeth in the Horizon strand, which can be a little dry and laboratorial, Cox wanted to find an “audience beyond the 1.5 million middle-aged men. We always had in mind that we would prefer a morePlanet Earth type audience.”

In the event, Wonders of the Universe drew an average audience of 6 million people in Britain, which is an impressive figure for a series which began by explaining the second law of thermodynamics. Much of its critical and commercial success can be attributed to Cox’s uncommon gift of being able to raise his voice without lowering his tone.

“I do think audiences are there to be challenged significantly more than we often assume,” he says. “I think you can lose audiences intellectually, and I don’t think they’ll turn off. That’s my theory. The evidence is that the viewing figures hold up.”

If Cox’s seemingly bottomless enthusiasm helped pull in many viewers, the two series also benefited from the vast, multi-locational scope more usually associated with natural history. One moment the presenter was in Mexico, then the next on the abandoned coastline of Namibia, racking up more air miles than George Clooney in Up in the Air.

Even so, he’s decided to ditch the globetrotting style for his next series. Shillinglaw approves of the change of tack. “What we have to be constantly aware of in television is to be wary of pastiche,” she says. “What Brian is saying there is that we shouldn’t become lazy.”

But Cox also seems to be saying that he feels the peripatetic frenzy served as a distraction. “I think in some sense, in hindsight, we overused the huge panoramic vistas. I think what’s interesting is if you look at what people remember from the two Wonder series, they tend to be the smaller moments. For example, in Solar System, when I have a little bucket and I calculate the energy output of the sun. It happens to be in Death Valley but it’s the intimacy of that scene that people remember.”

At the moment Cox and his partner Andrew Cohen are thinking about how to pare back on visually spectacular set pieces while still satisfying the widescreen and Blu-ray audience. “There’s almost a layer of clichés that have built up,” he says. “Things like Planet Earth started it, because you’ve got big TVs and so you can have beautiful helicopter shots. This kind of BBC trademark high-quality look has become part of the funding structure. Is there any of that glossy and almost bombastic television that we can strip away while keeping the quality?”

While grappling with this question, Cox and Cohen have been studying a series that’s more than three decades old: Life on Earth.

“Obviously one of the things that is brilliant about the programmes is Attenborough,” says Cox, “but they’re also quite intimate, quite long pieces where the environment becomes the stage for the story.”

It’s fitting that Cox, the most charismatic science presenter in a generation, has returned to Attenborough in his search for ideas. In showing us the world, Attenborough connected us with something profound and lasting and fundamentally bigger than ourselves. No one else has forged such a trusted relationship with the viewer. As Scoones puts it: “I think Life on Earth was when people recognised, if you like, the truth of the word.”

And the word, ultimately, is the image. That’s why television will remain the most effective means of bringing the message of nature’s rich and precious complexity home.

Professor Brian Cox, Wonders of the Universe

“Television is a limited format – you’re only working with a few hours – but what you can hope to do is to open people up to some big ideas. Things like Life on Earth revealed a world of natural history that just hadn’t been seen before. Planet Earth did it again.

And what Wonders of the Solar System and Universe did, from the feedback I’ve received, is inform a lot of people who didn’t know that there were 350m galaxies in the observable universe. You can convey the backdrop of current scientific knowledge. You can’t give a lecture. You can map out the terrain.

The natural event I was most proud of bringing to people’s TV screens was the solar eclipse at Varanasi. It was a dramatic thing to be involved in. It was very unlikely we were going to get it – the weather forecast was atrocious across the whole area of the eclipse. It was sheer luck that we chose the right place. And the backdrop and colour of Varanasi were brilliant.

What’s the event I’d most like to see on television? I think that would have to be a manned mission to Mars.”

Professor Brian Cox’s latest book is Wonders of the Universe (Collins, £20)

Beverly Joubert, Nat Geo Wild

“The issues we have in conservation today stem from a lack of understanding, and association with, nature, so television is an important mouthpiece and ambassador. We hear more and more comments from kids quoting stuff from our programmes back to us, and the number of facts they have absorbed is pretty stunning. We must, however, be careful about trivialising wildlife and suggesting that it only has value as entertainment for us humans. A lot of TV is like that, and you can reach a point at which it ceases to be productive and tips over into voyeurism. But television has other benefits too: because it is in your home, you tend to trust it for facts and debate, whereas theatre and film are considered entertainment.”

Beverly Joubert is the joint explorer-in-residence at Nat Geo Wild and the National Geographic Channel

Kate Humble, Springwatch

“The wildlife documentaries that have enormous popularity and are close to people’s hearts – the sort of thing that David Attenborough works on – have allowed viewers to become armchair travellers. Television allows people access to every part of the world and helps them to give value to the planet, to understand that this is something really worth protecting.

Nature documentaries open people’s eyes to the wonders of the natural world, be it something on their doorstep, the way Springwatch has done, or the exotic, like the behaviour of birds of paradise in Papua New Guinea. Some people have referred to documentaries like Blue Planet and Planet Earth as ‘wildlife porn’ – and I’d say hooray to that if it inspires viewers to get out into the natural world. The greater the passion we can inspire for the natural world, the more effective conservation will be.

I am proud of Springwatch: often the stars of the shows are animals and birds that people see in any urban garden or park. What we do through cutting-edge technology, using tiny little cameras, is film every moment through their breeding seasons. It’s certainly given me a different perspective on our most common birds, ones that we often disregard. It may seem small and domestic compared to seeing an astonishing lion kill, but our domestic environment is something to be celebrated.”

Kate Humble appears on Springwatch on BBC Two at 8pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and on Wednesdays at 7.30pm – followed byUnsprung

Get Out There ! Making National ‘Get Outdoors’ Day Fun and Easy for Parents and Kids

National Wildlife Federation
Image via Wikipedia


Follow at…!/LearnFromNature!/ChildrenNature!/forest_and_bird

Saturday, June 11 is National Get Outdoors Day! It is a crucial part of Great Outdoors month. With so many special days to observe during the year, one might wonder why yet another would be set aside aimed at families enjoying the great outdoors.

The answer is simple.  Since the late 1990s, American children have slowly given up on an ages-long tradition of regular outdoor play and have started staying indoors – all the time.   Our children are now so indoor focused you might even think of them as under a kind of self-imposed “house arrest.”

If you ever question how much our children really need more outdoor time, simply recall that the average child today spends 7 hours and 38 minutes watching television, playing video games or staring at websites.   They are turning to human veal before our eyes with worsening eyesight, vitamin D deficiencies, and an increasing inability to relate to other kids or adults.

But this is not about laying guilt on parents and care-takers, it is about simply rebalancing their young lives by encouraging 30 minutes to an hour of outdoor play time and fun.   Think of it as a daily “green hour” for the kids.

Here are a couple handy tools NWF has developed to make this rebalancing easy on Get Outdoors Day or any day:

If you would like to learn more about the NWF’s programs that help parents provide outdoor opportunities for children visit our Be Out There ™ website and our online Green Hour activities page.   Importantly, have a great time on National Get Outdoors Day! and

Happy Birthday, ‘China Daily’ …. a modern newspaper that speaks ‘green’

More than 800 people gathered at the Great Hall of the People on Tuesday to celebrate China Daily’s 30-year journey from an eight-page black/white newspaper to a global media group with 12 publications and audiences in Asia, Europe and North America.

From retired journalists in their 80s and heads of major news organizations to dignitaries from Party and government departments, the participants also marked the national English-language newspaper’s new voyage of development into a leading international multimedia group.

“China Daily – as an important medium of China’s international communication – has become the window for China to know the world and for the world to understand China,” Li Changchun, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, wrote in his congratulatory letter.

“While highlighting China’s determination for peaceful development, China Daily also needs to help promote China’s vision of a harmonious world with long-lasting peace and shared prosperity,” Li added in his letter, which was read at Tuesday’s event.

Other leaders of the Party and government departments focused on the challenges China Daily faces as advances in information technology have created multiple news delivery platforms.

“In the face of serious media competition and increased audience selectivity, China Daily needs to come up with more innovative content and formats to maintain its competitive edge and win audiences,” Liu Yunshan, a member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and head of the CPC Central Committee’s Publicity Department, said in a keynote speech.

“In keeping up with advances in information technology, China Daily needs to transform its traditional mode of communication with the latest technology, actively promote new media and provide services using the Internet and mobile devices,” Liu said.

In his address, Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office, highlighted the necessity “to reduce international misunderstanding and misconception over China’s rise”.

“China Daily needs to embrace the latest trends at home and abroad, reflect international public opinion, and sharpen its coverage of domestic and global events of great importance,” Wang said.

Retracing China Daily’s journey since its first official issue rolled off the presses on June 1, 1981, Zhu Ling, China Daily’s editor-in-chief, not only summarized the paper’s past achievements but also emphasized that the celebration of its 30th birthday marks “a starting point” to build it into a “top-notch international all-media group”.

China Daily “must recognize the increasing integration of the Internet and the traditional media, hasten its own strategic transformation and narrow the gap with leading international news media”, Zhu said.

China Daily is building a comprehensive network to gather news and information, and will also boost production and delivery, enabling it to reach a global audience via a range of media channels that will enhance interaction with readers, Zhu said.

China Daily must be able to keep pace with advances in information technology and remain a pioneer in communicating via the new media, Zhu said.

Along with the official keynote speeches were personal reflections.

Bill Gaspard, China Daily’s design director and one of the more than 70 expat journalists at the paper, told of the brief panic he experienced on arrival that soon gave way to a feeling of familiarity when he entered the newsroom.

“My first day at work I spoke with a top editor about the mission of China Daily – to bring the story of China to the world and to bring the world’s story to China,” Gaspard recalled.

He spoke about how important it was – in such a complex, fast-moving world – to break down stereotypes, dissipate the mistrust between people and to promote mutual understanding. “That mission resonates with us as we push to improve the professional standards of China Daily. And those standards have improved substantially, along with the reach of the paper,” Gaspard said.

“Birthdays are for wishes and mine for China Daily are that it continues to reach for new heights and helps to bridge the divide between our view of the past and our understanding of the future,” he said.

Retired editor, Wu Jingshu, 85, recalled the days when he worked on the trial issues of a 4-page broadsheet.

A representative of journalists from a younger generation, Tan Yingzi, China Daily’s chief Washington correspondent, shared her experiences.

Congratulatory messages, meanwhile, poured in from across the world.

“It is my pleasure to congratulate China Daily on its achievements over the three decades as China’s official English-language newspaper – a significant milestone,” Julia Gillard, prime minister of Australia, wrote.

China poised to top US in science by 2013

Updated: 2011-03-29 18:02

hina may surpass the United States as the global leader in scientific output by as early as 2013, thanks to huge investments in research and development (R&D) and education, says a new study conducted by the Royal Society, the UK’s national science academy.

Related: China set to be top economy by 2030

Analysis of published research indicates that Chinese science has made rapid strides in recent years going by the number of papers published in the recognized international journals listed by the Scopus service of publishers Elsevier.

In 1996, the US published 292,513 papers – more than 10 times China’s 25,474. By 2008, the US total had increased slightly to 316,317 while China reported a more than seven-fold increase to 184,080, says the BBC.

The US still leads the world, but its share of global authorship has fallen to 21 percent from 26 percent, the Royal Society found after analyzing the share of the world’s authorship of scientific research papers between the periods 1993-2003 and 2004-2008.

During the same period, the share of China rose to 10.2 percent from 4.4 percent, and its ranking improved from sixth to second place. Britain has remained relatively stable and is currently ranked third.

Earlier estimates had indicated that China might surpass the US sometime after 2020. But the Royal Society has now made a bolder forecast in its study entitled Knowledge, Networks and Nations.

“A simple linear interpretation of Elsevier’s publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013,” it says.

“China has heavily increased its investment in R&D, with spending growing by 20% per year since 1999 to reach over US$100 billion a year today (or 1.44% of GDP in 2007), in pursuit of its goal of spending 2.5% of GDP on R&D in 2020.”

China is also turning out huge numbers of science and engineering graduates, with nearly 1.5 million leaving its universities in 2006, said the study.

However, the surge in the volume of research publications does not necessarily mean an increase in quality, which is often evaluated by citations, the report pointed out.

Although China has risen in the “citation” rankings, its performance on this measure lags behind its investment and publication rate, said the study.

“It will take some time for the absolute output of emerging nations to challenge the rate at which this research is referenced by the international scientific community.”

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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A celebration of good news or commiserations about our Planet … ? It’s Endangered Species Day

Lonicera maackii
Image by wallygrom (very busy at work) via Flickr

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Endangered Species Day is an opportunity for people young and old to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species and everyday actions that people can take to help protect our nation’s disappearing wildlife and last remaining open space. Protecting America’s wildlife and plants today is a legacy we leave to our children and grandchildren, so that all Americans can experience the rich variety of native species that help to define our nation.

Started by the United States Senate, Endangered Species Day is the third Friday in May. Every year, thousands of people throughout the country celebrate Endangered Species Day at parks, wildlife refuges, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, libraries, schools and community centers. You can participate in festivals, field trips, park tours, community clean-ups, film showings, classroom presentations, and many other fun and educational activities.

Plan your own Endangered Species Day event!

Find everything you need in our Endangered Species Day Toolkit, including a step-by-step guide to planning an Endangered Species Day event and materials to make your event fun and successful.  Then tell everyone about your event with our Endangered Species Day event registration form.

Learn about endangered species where you live

Protect Endangered Species At Home

Show your support for endangered species on Facebook and Twitter

This Endangered Species Day, show your support for threatened and endangered species by replacing your profile picture or avatar on Facebook, Twitter or Google with a picture of your favorite species.

Send An Endangered Species Day E-card
Send a free Endangered Species Day e-card, now offered by E-mail a card to work associates, friends, family members and everyone else you know.

See The Winning Entries in The 2011 Endangered Species Day Art Contest

Children in grades K-12 submitted artwork, posters and pictures to this yearsEndangered Species Day Artwork Contest. The winner’s work will be exhibited at Ogden Museum of Southern Art. The winner of the Endangered Species Day Art Contest was chosen by an incredible panel of artists, photographers and wildlife experts. You  may view winning entires here. 

Meet Our Endangered Species Day Ambassadors

Pass an Endangered Species Day Resolution