By: Alan Fortescue
Kids in nature. Image credit:Nature Conservancy, Paul Barwick
Is creating the next generation of environmental stewards as easy as sending your kids outside to play? Research suggests the answer is yes. A study done several years ago by Louise Chawla tried to understand what factors went into the make-up of people who demonstrated significantly pro-environmental behavior. After doing a psychometric profile of these people Chawla found they all had one characteristic in common: they all spent a significant amount of time outdoors playing in the wild.
Recent research has continued to expand and support the idea that more than any other factor the act of getting children outdoors will powerfully impact their desire to preserve the natural world. As prominent environmental educator David Sobel eloquently stated, "One transcendent experience in nature is worth a thousand nature facts." It turns out that children who have an immersive experience in nature between the ages of 5 and 10 foster a deep love of the environment that they carry with them their entire lives. Aside from significantly increasing the likelihood that they will actively work to preserve the important life-giving aspects of the environment as adults, an engagement with nature has other positive cognitive impacts, from
improved performance in school to moral development to a greater involvement and concern for community well-being. A recent study of 300 of the world's most innovative thinkers and leaders showed clear links between childhood immersion in nature and an out-of-the-box creativity and tireless commitment to society.
Children increasingly isolated from nature.
And yet, ironically, a recent book entitled Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv highlights the social reality that rather than connecting our kids with nature, American families are increasingly removing their kids from the wild. Conducting interviews with kids across America, Louv documented how today's children are distanced from nature and issues of sustainability in a ways that ultimately lead to a devaluing of the environment. Whether they are cloister themselves indoors to watch TV and play video games (which studies have shown have a negative impact of brain development), or are kept indoors by nervous or over-achieving parents, the long-term trend which is separating children from nature has dramatic future consequences for our collective survival.
If you read or listen the news at all, you encounter daily accounts about the widespread environmental challenges that we all must deal with. This trend is both disheartening and bewildering. Disheartening because we know our children will not share the same world we grew up in; bewildering because despite all the evidence, we are not doing much to reinvest ourselves and our kids with time spent in imaginative,
unstructured play outside.
If we wish to raise environmentally-conscious children who will be engaged with the issues of sustainability, it is time we placed significant effort on bringing them back outdoors. Of course, for many of this, this task is easier said than achieved, especially for families living in urban areas. Not to worry. Bringing kids to play in a park, getting them involved with gardening also have positive add on effects-just to as strong as those encountered by an experience in the woods, by a pond, or in the mountains.
If you would like to find out more about ways to engage your kids outside (if you are a nature novice yourself-check in with PBS Parent's where I am guest blogging on this very issue).