LEAVE NO CHILD INSIDE

The single most important ingredient that ignited my lifelong passion for insects and all natural history was…freedom.

Supportive parents, teachers, librarians, and scientists all fostered my interest in insects and natural history, but it was the freedom to explore and discover nature at my own pace that really made the difference.

As a youngster, I spent many glorious hours on end wandering along trails, hiking up canyons, mucking about in streams, turning over rocks, examining flowers, and peeling back bark.

These early explorations taught me a great deal about the natural world. They also rewarded me with invaluable self-knowledge that continues to serve me well today—that the outdoors is my own personal refuge.

Sadly, unstructured time for most children has become a thing of the past. Recess time outside has been eliminated from many elementary schools. Overburdened with homework, sports, and other structured activities, children today have little time or inclination to just step out outside and ‘be.’

Freedom to explore, to get dirty, and to be ‘human beings’ instead of ‘human doings’ has all but vanished for children. Studies show that their outdoor time is down by 50% when compared to that of their parents and grandparents.

Cheryl Charles, president of the Children and Nature Network, notes that during the past two or three decades, well-intentioned parents have replaced nature with scheduled activities and events. She notes that technology, such as computers, iPods, television, etc., have their place but are consuming a disproportionate amount of their children’s time.

Parents are justifiably worried about the safety of their children, but the Internet has proven to be more dangerous than the outdoors, which is even more reason to encourage children to spend more time in “green space” than with “screen space.”

As human beings, we need the colors and rhythms that only nature can provide. The sights, smells, and sounds of nature provide us with vivid of memories that last a lifetime.

Years from now it is these shared experiences outdoors—not those in front of a television or computer screen—that will help us and our children to recall family and friends long since gone.

The disjunction between children and nature is not only to their detriment, but also to the detriment of nature itself. After all, we only save what we love and we love only what we know.

According to researchers at Cornell University, children who spend time in the wild fishing and camping before the age of 11 are more likely to grow up to be environmentally-minded and committed as adults.

The very notion of “leave no child behind” must begin with the basic concept of “leave no child inside.” The next time you really want to do something for a child, spend time with them outdoors. Just go out into the yard, or visit a city, state, or national park. It will do you both a world of good.

To learn more about movements to reconnect children with nature visit < http://www.cnaturenet.org/> and the National Wildlife Federation’s “Green Hour” program <www.GreenHour.org>.

©2007, A.V. Evans

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5 Responses to “LEAVE NO CHILD INSIDE”

  1. This is the saddest part of todays lifestyle and it is making a huge impact on how the children of today interact with each other. What a pity we cannot change there lives by showing and teaching them the beauties of the natural world, but it seems as if too many mechanical technologies interfere.

  2. I completely agree with you – I only had a big backyard to explore, but we had a pond, small patch of woods, a garden and berry bushes that I would diligently explore daily, looking for bugs and other creatures. My grandfather built me a butterfly net that I’d use for butterflies as well as frogs.

    Being outside and feeling that kind of freedom (even if I was never more than 100ft from the house) really shaped my curiosity and passion for wildlife… every little bit counts. At recess on the playground, I’d catch grasshoppers and spiders in the grass.

    I’ll hopefully be working at a nature center this summer, an internship funded by the DEC… I think helping kids see the importance and the fun of nature is really important. I’ve done presentations at elementary schools with my pets (various reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates) and the kids are so full of questions! They want to explore, they want to know these things, but their parents don’t let them outside, or teach them falsehoods about the dangers of animals. I’d hear many more stories of “my dad killed a snake with a shovel” than any instance of an animal being observed with interest.

    There is still hope, as long as enough parents are able to get over their irrational fears and give their children a chance to explore the world. It doesn’t have to be dangerous – a backyard, a park, a campsite. Curiosity can make a big difference.

  3. Arthur Evans Says:

    Thank you both for your thoughtful comments. I do think that our fascination with the internet net is not unlike a dog or cat obsessing over a laser pointer. It seems that any form of a flickering fire-like light has immense power over us.

    Curiosity is a key ingredient for cultivating and interest in nature, along with a nearby “wild place” in which to explore. The trick is to ignite the curiosity in such a place. A nature center is an ideal place for such a first time experience. The challenge is to get parents to take their children to these places.

    As an aside, when Hurricane Isabel whipped through here a few years back, many folks, including myself were without electricity for a week or more. I didn’t realize that we had so many children in our neighboorhood! They were out walking, playing, riding bikes, playing ball. Yet, when the power came back on, they all disappeared, presumably back to their electronics.

    It’s up to those of us that appreciate nature to share our knowledge and enthusiasm with the rest of the world. You never know when some child with whom we have had only brief contact grows up to become the next Charles Darwin, Roger Tory Peterson, or E.O. Wilson. You just never know.

  4. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been taking our 4 year old outside as much as possible and he seems to love it as much or more than various other activities, such as playgrounds and such (not that I’m knocking playgrounds at all!). He is befuddled about people who think that “bugs” are “icky” and actually thought that I was trying to put one over on him when I told him that some people think that. One thing that I am against is that some people who are earnest about nature education promote a “hands off” policy about nature, whereas what got me really interested as a kid was catching critters and maybe keeping them for awhile and observing them. To my mind, the more catching, holding, up close observation, etc, the better.

    • Arthur Evans Says:

      You are a very good Dad Dave! Keep up the good work! We need more naturalists out there than ever before!

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