Posted: November 30th, 2013
In recent years, it is increasingly difficult to find a child or adolescent who grew up playing in the outdoors, exploring the woods and creeks nearby. Most grew up playing indoors with electronic gadgets obtained by well-meaning parents. Children are not experiencing the wonders that nature has to offer due to a variety of factors borne out of living in this technologically powered world. The children born in the late 20th century America has lost something that they did not have. This lack of nature is detrimental to children’s physical, psychological and spiritual development.
Early in the 20th century, the children had a deeper appreciation for nature because they were constantly surrounded by it. The urban areas still had creeks and woods that children could explore. They had nature as an integral part of their lives. It was not an abstract notion, but a powerful force in their everyday lives and this ingrained a deeper understanding of the world around them. Those children knew that food came from the earth and fish were caught in rivers, lakes and seas near them. This, the children born in the 1980s have never had. They only know of the supermarket and markets without the knowledge that the earth produces their nourishment (21).
The serenity that nature provides cannot be reproduced by any artificial means. The sights and sounds, the ‘wildness’ of nature and the clean air found in nature have calming effects on children. Nature’s peaceful and calming effect on children and adults alike has been relegated. The goodness that children gain from spending time outdoors cannot be replicated by any advances in technology. A child’s senses are sharpened when he or she plays and explores the outdoors. All the sights and sounds that are constantly filling the air heighten the senses. As Louv puts it, nature calmed, focused and excited his senses as a child (10).
The outdoors foster a sense of release in children. The solitude that children enjoy in the woods or by a stream serves as a source of escape from the adult world. As evidenced by Louv’s interview of elementary school children. Some reported that they went into the woods near their homes to just lie in a field or sit behind a tree. The peacefulness of the woods calms them as reported by a fifth grader. She spoke of obtaining a sense of freedom and calm when in the woods (13-14). The world as it is today can be demanding on a child, and release from the stress of demanding schoolwork is very therapeutic (Louv, 3).
Nature has a way of inspiring innovativeness in children. Their imagination creates new ways of manipulating their surroundings to fit their needs and helps them find solutions to any impediments they might encounter. Nature offers endless possibilities in terms of how children can use the spaces and resources in nature to maximize their play experience. Using trees to build tree houses, damming up streams to float boats and using scraps of liver to catch fish (27), are examples of the innovative and inventive ways children use the natural resources to play. The advent of computer games has decreased that innovative streak.
Urbanization has served to decrease the open spaces available for children to play. The concrete jungles created to satisfy the increase in demand for housing has been detrimental to the availability of free spaces. Modern urban and suburban designers are replacing wildness with synthetic nature that is more manageable than the wild. This has ensured children stay indoors or even discourage the interaction of children with nature. Instead, children now are divorced from the wild, from nature. Such experiences are confined to occasional visits to the national parks and zoos. Children are not experiencing nature as part of their lives on a daily basis. This extends to the relationship they have with their food, as this is grown in areas away from their neighborhoods, hence foreign to them.
Advances made in technology have zoned children out of the real world and sucked them into virtual ones. The replacement of natural play with the electronic gadgets has decreased children’s imaginations, and since most do not know any better, staying indoors is viewed as more fun. A fourth grader that was interviewed by Louv admitted preferring playing indoors due to all the presence of electrical outlets (10). Some parents attested to this observation. Children are not interested in exploring nature. Even when they are outside in nature, they are plugged in to their earphones or other electronic device (12). They do not find pleasure in engaging themselves in the wonderment that nature offers.
The amount of control that parents exercise over their children’s playtime activities has hampered their innate explorative desire. Society has become dangerous for children, and the media do not make it any easier by constantly relaying those fears of harm befalling children. Obsession with safety has made things like climbing trees or building ramps to ride bicycles on as hazardous (27). Parks are constantly filled with signposts that deter veering off the demarcated paths. Children, during Louv’ interviews, attested to this (13). Parents and society place too many restrictions on children, to their children’s detriment.
Children need to be reintroduced to the wonders of nature. The benefits that nature offers to children are numerous and crucial to their development. The future of the earth depends on the interactions and consequently their appreciation of the role nature plays in their lives. An understanding of human’s role in nature may be the key in saving the planet from further destruction for the benefit of generations to come.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005. Print
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