Environmental education feels like a relatively new concept, however, in actuality the idea has been around as long as we have. In today’s modern world we’ve found ourselves surrounded by the synthetic, concrete kingdoms of our own making. We all like to visit nature, but most of us do not depend on understanding natural rhythms any longer.
Not so long ago, our ancestors considered the practice of cultivating knowledge and respect of our living world as customary as learning (and teaching) basic life skills. In fact, a person’s survival depended on how well, and how quickly, he found his niche within the routine of his natural environment.
These days, by the time they reach the 5th grade, children in our country can quickly recognize and identify nearly 1,000 marketing logos! This is quite an impressive reminder of the capacity of our young minds to retain visual information. The other, more disturbing, fact inserted here is that the vast majority of those same children cannot list 10 species of plant and/or animal that share their own backyards.
Richard Louv coined this phenomenon “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods.” There are a few very obvious reasons that children are having an increasingly difficult time developing a connection to their natural world.
- Parents are keeping kids indoors more and more these days to keep them safe from danger. Rising human populations bring busier roadways and increased crime rate.
- The loss of natural surroundings due to development and habitat destruction. More kids are growing up in cities or urban environments with no wilderness to explore.
- Televisions and video games have become the most common “babysitter” for children in this country. The average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media. (betterkidcare.psu.edu)
The fallout from keeping children indoors directly affects their social skills, aptitude for learning and most concerning – their physical and mental health. Several behavioral problems like ADD and ADHD have been directly related to nature deficit disorder. (http://www.education.com/topic/nature-deficit-disorder/)
In a 1968 speech to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Baba Dioum said “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.”
This still holds true today. We must remember that we do not visit nature. Nature is the air we breathe, the water on our toothbrush and the milk in our cereal bowl. It is up to all of us to ensure that our children are taught to understand our natural heritage, to love our life-giving Earth and to conserve and protect our shared, and in many cases, diminishing resources.
Whether you are a parent, teacher or simply have a child in your life that you cherish, you are an educator. The more you build upon your own clear understanding of Nature, of conservation obstacles and solutions, the better prepared you will be to nurture a healthy environmental ethic in the lives of others.
A beautiful way to connect with a child is to connect a child to Nature. Teach the children to respect and preserve our natural world and you’ve invested in our future – and you’ve given a gift that will last more than a lifetime, it will span generations. Learn more for the sake of teaching more.
So…go outside and play! (and learn and teach and grow!)
To learn more about helping children connect to the Natural World, enjoy the following links:
Books for Adults:
The Geography of Childhood by Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble
The Earth Speaks by Steven Van Matre
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv
Hot Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman
The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson
Books for Kids:
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” ~Gaylord Nelson