Most of us can remember playing outside when we were children. I remember running through the sprinkler, digging holes in the dirt, playing Hide and Seek or Kick the Can until it got too dark to see, or my mother turned on the porchlight to tell me it was time to come home. We played outside and were part of nature because it was more fun than playing inside. There were trees to climb, worms to dig up, and rain puddles to splash in. We caught fireflies, tasted honeysuckle and picked clover flowers that we tied into chains for our heads, necks and wrists.
In return, nature gave us her gifts. Nature gave us freedom and creativity. If we used sticks for horses and rocks for fences, our imaginations were just as happy with those as if we had electronic toys that cost hundreds of dollars. Nature gave us peace. We could calm down and “smell the roses.” Being out in nature is one of the proven ways to help Attention Deficit Disorder. Nature gave us immunity to the germs we encountered by stimulating our immune system. And nature gave us a sense of awe and wonder as we witnessed something much greater than our small selves. Stuart Hine was in the Carpathian Mountains when he was inspired to write the words to the beautiful hymn, “How Great Thou Art”.
We learned where our food came from. We knew that chickens laid eggs and that some of those chickens would end up in our dinners. We probably had a family friend or relative with a farm, or garden, so we knew that food could be grown in and on the earth.
Today’s children suffer from a disconnect from the natural world that Richard Louv calls “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Without even knowing it, many children lack a vital part of their education. They spend hours a day in front of an electronic screen to the point of obsession. Their toys talk and move electronically so they don’t even have to use their imaginations anymore. The fast pace of television keeps young brains wired for speed. Electronics are an important part of our lives and serve to improve our quality of life. But overdone, especially with children, they get in the way of some important learning.
What to do about it? You, as a parent, a grandparent or a caregiver can have a strong effect on the future of the children in your life. There is a growing movement among parents and educators to get children out into the environment, to let them explore and experience the natural world. One hour of unstructured outdoor time in a green space is the recommended minimum amount of time for children to reap the benefits of nature. A green space can be a park, the woods or your back yard. And remember, the key word is unstructured – that means they have time of their own to play, jump, run, imagine, dream and reflect. An excellent parent resource is greenhour.com, which has many excellent activities and suggestions for going with your young person and finding nature together.
Paul Gorman, founder of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, said “The extent that we separate our children from creation is the extent to which we separate them from the creator-from God”.
You don’t have to wait for the time and money to go to Yellowstone! Take them to the park, go for a walk in the woods, or hang out in the backyard turning over rocks or watching for birds! Let’s help our kids so they have a strong connection to the outdoors, so they can appreciate creation … and the Creator.
PCLC Parade, March 2009