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Rediscovering Nature, part 2: The great disconnect

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.

My grandpa took this photo of me when I was seven or eight. I have many happy memories of fishing with him at “Perch Place.”


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.

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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?

5 responses to “Rediscovering Nature, part 2: The great disconnect”

  1. Katie Avatar

    I clearly remember playing outside with my sister almost every day when we were young. I have fond memories as a teenager, sitting outside under our weeping willow while cross-stitching or reading. My kids are barely outside except for the path from the garage to the car in the driveway. There are BUGS out there, you know! Ahhh! We planted a garden this year in our little suburban backyard & that alone has helped them get more comfortable with being outside among the creepy-crawlies. It’s a start at least!

  2. April Avatar

    I wonder if part of the problem is that we’re reluctant to let kids go out by themselves (Stranger Danger! Bigfoot!), but don’t really want to go with them because we’ll sweat. Er, perspire. Most of my outdoor time was alone, with my parents sitting comfortably inside with an ice tea.

  3. Renee Avatar

    Your brother still plays Ghost in the Graveyard with his own kids. They love it and introduce it to their friends.

  4. April Avatar

    That’s great, Renee! He should teach them Werewolf. Or not, if you don’t want them to have nightmares.

  5. Mary Avatar

    As a little girl, my Grandparents back yard and a dirt embankment at the end of the street were my favorite places. I made mud pies and got stung by large red ants at the base of the tree, and played Tarzan in the branches of the tree. Complete with a rope to slide down. Tree climbing was fun, my own special world.
    The dirt embankment was special fun. There I discovered buttercups and created all sort of magical things. When I was 7 we left West Texas behind and traveled the country. Colorado, Wisconsin and Washington state stole my heart. Mountains, rivers, green trees and beautiful flowers. It left a West Texas girl permanently discontent with the desert, but seeking beauty wherever I could find it.

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