Why The Young Need Nature
Why the Young (and the Rest of Us) Need Nature
— A Review of Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Wood” Chapter 4-8
If we randomly get hold of a child and ask if he or she likes to play indoors or outdoors, in nine cases out of ten a direct response of today’s “wired generation” will be like the following, which seems quite obvious. “Oh, I like to play indoors better because that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
Children born after 1980 seldom hear the words “Go and play outside.” With few exceptions, they are an excessively constrained and quarantined generation living an over sheltered life with little or almost no direct experience of the natural world. Urban growth and suburban expansion have swallowed up vast acres of virgin land. Trees in playgrounds and parks have been carefully cordoned off to prevent tree climbing and possible lawsuits. Boundless grassland, lawns and meadows have been stiffly armored with reinforced concrete. What is worse, children nowadays are driven indoors to the lure of all kinds of electronic entertainment, video games, i-pods and TV. Nonetheless, it is not only computers, TV and electronic games that are keeping kids inside. It is also their parents’ fears of strangers, traffic and infectious diseases; their schools’ accentuation on more and more homework assignments; their crammed timetables; and their lack of access to natural areas. As a result, children are exhibiting what the author has labeled as “Nature Deficit Disorder.”
The latest research demonstrates that nature can offer powerful therapy for such deficiencies or maladies as depression, childhood obesity, lack of creativity and curiosity, loss of respect for nature and the environment. Additionally, nature nurtures kids’ creativity and fosters the genius of children. Climbing the trees of health and breathing the fresh air, kids’ life of the senses begins. If we resolutely hamper our children from experiencing such an exhilarating natural environment and rush them to upgrade their test scores and grade-point averages and quarantine them indoors to push them finish reading tasks, this will inevitably cause the aforesaid deficiencies or diseases, which indeed will be a hefty price to pay.
Fortunately, there is an antidote for this kind of nature deficit disorder—getting children back into the wild. New research indicates that when children have certain kinds of hands-on experiences with nature, they will definitely reap the benefits, i.e. fewer incidents of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem, enhanced brain development, higher levels of curiosity and creativity and a sense of connectedness to the community and the environment.
To provide our children with access to nature requires us to carefully ponder over our current social and cultural infrastructures. In “Last Child in the Woods,” the author cites contemporary examples of schools that use the surrounding ecological community as their classroom, often with astonishingly successful outcomes, including improved test scores. He looks at urban planning concepts that incorporate natural corridors for wildlife, energy-self-sufficient urban malls that merge nature into their design, city rooftop gardens, and green public spaces. I was also strongly convinced that such early nature experiences are essential if we are to produce tomorrow’s creative thinkers and change agents.
Nature can be appreciated wherever you are – from an urban flower garden to a rural backyard. Observe the natural world around you and draw the children’s attention to the miracles and wonders of our nature. Appreciate a morning glory’s struggle to wind around a bamboo pole. Show children the differences between various tree leaves, gather them and carry them home. Explain that wildflowers must be allowed to go to seed so that more can grow next year; if the flower is picked it is unable to continue through its life cycle. Watch the animals and insects wake up. Observe a sparrow’s nest under construction. A grown-up’s own sense of wonder, more than his or her scientific knowledge, will inspire and sustain a child’s love of nature. A grown-up person’s sense of awe will be contagious to the children. Why don’t we explore and learn about nature together with our children. Focus on “experiencing” rather than “teaching.” Take your lead from the children after you have provided the opportunity for them to interact with the natural world. Anita Olds, a writer of stories for children, puts that “There’s no way that we can help children to learn to love and preserve this planet, if we don’t give them direct experiences with the miracles and blessings of nature.”
Richard Louv, the author, is deeply convinced that nature is the best place to foster the creativity and imagination of our children and cure the so-called “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Nature is definitely the right place to let our children play, interact and keep a close touch with because from the very beginning, man and nature have shared a close symbiotic relationship and this kind of close bonding experience or relationship has been enabling human-beings to be fruitful and increase in number. God created man and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. God blessed human-beings and allowed them to fill the earth and subdue it. Nevertheless, the health of the earth is at stake. It is the fall of man to be insatiable and to subjugate, destruct and over exploit nature and even deprive the next generation of the right to get to know about and interact with nature. It is an eternal truth that man is just a part of awesome nature and the relationship between man and nature should be symbiotic. If I could, I would like to put this important book into the hands of everyone whose work in any way touches the lives of today’s children and future generations. Healing the broken bond between nature and man-kind, especially the young generation is in our self interest.