Second in a sporadic series about From Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv.
When I was a child, I use to roam my grandparents property, sometimes with my brother, sometimes alone or with friends. We explored four acres of West Texas wilderness, eight with my uncle’s adjoining property. There wasn’t much out there, rabbits, ducks at the pond, tracks and remains that told of coyotes. I never came across a rattler, but that was the grace of God rather than the absence of snakes. (Just call me St. Patricia!) My best friend and I buried a time capsule somewhere out there, probably long since dissolved or unburied by coyotes.
In the summers we spent weekends at my maternal grandparents lake property. It was a small 1/4 acre lot with a camper (and later a trailer) on it. There were no “organized activities” or fancy amenities, but priceless memories were made. We fished and swam and explored through the hot Texas summers. I can still hear the call of the whippoorwill and treasure the memories of fishing with my grandpa.
Even in my rather nature-sparse home town, I had the freedom to explore. The rule was, “Come home when the street lights come on.” We rambled through alleyways and commandeered a very kind neighbors back yard. And after dark, we’d catch June bugs and play Ghost in the Graveyard and a very exciting game invented by my brother: Werewolf. It consisted of him jumping out from dark corners and scaring the poop out of us. Good times.
Many people my age or older have similar memories. Our parents and grandparents most likely had an even greater connection to nature, rambling alone through wooded places–fishing and hunting alone, even as children (or at least teens.) Unfortunately, our children are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world. In Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv shows just how great that disconnect is and argues that the consequences of that break are severe.
But why do we have a “nature deficit”, as Louv labels it? Aren’t our children more educated on the importance of the environment? Can’t every child in America sing “The Circle of Life” and chant “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”? Shouldn’t our little knee-biters be greater nature lovers and enjoyers than we were? Has there been any movement as loud and prevalent as the environmentalist movement?
But the facts speak for themselves. From the book:
- “From 1997 to 2003, there was a decline of 50 percent in the proportion of children nine to twelve who spent time in such outside activities as hiking, walking, fishing, beach play, and gardening.”
- “71 percent of today’s mothers said they recalled playing outdoors every day as children but only 26 percent of them said their kids play outdoors daily.”
- A Scottish study of toddler activity revealed toddlers “were physically active for only twenty minutes a day.” Young children in particular are “containerized kids”, spending their time constricted to strollers, car seats, play pens, and high chairs.
Even our own experiences tell us otherwise. Seldom do we see kids running through the neighborhoods. Most children have every hour of the day scheduled for them. And even if they did have free time, they wouldn’t be allowed the freedom to roam unfettered. (Interestingly, children probably have more freedom to roam the internet than the vacant lot near their house. I know which one I find more dangerous.)
But so what? We are less nature oriented than previous generations, and much more technical. Cultures change.We don’t live in tents, huts, or caves anymore, and no one is complaining about that. Should we really be worried that our kids no longer climb trees or crash through the brush? Richard Louv argues persuasively that we should be worried, and we need to be proactive in addressing the problem.
What about you? Do you see a nature disconnect in your kids? In yourself?