Every adult who has any interest in the future of our society should read Richard Louv’s book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder." At a recent conference, I heard Cheryl Charles, who is president of the Children and Nature Network, talk about the national movement that’s growing person by person, town by town and state by state.
On a gut level, most adults (at least those of the boomer generation) are aware of the huge difference in how today’s children experience the outdoors. Instead of free time exploring and seeing nature up close, life for too many kids is lived indoors through an electronic filter. And time is fixed, focused and rarely free.
Studies on the network’s website show the impact of this kind of experience on children’s health and well-being (obesity, attention deficit disorder, lack of problem-solving ability, depression).
Many state conservation agencies are stepping into the effort, too. Connecticut began its “No Child Left Inside/Great Parks Pursuit” program. Texas is promoting the idea that “Life’s Better Outside.” In Missouri, we’ve just begun the Learning Outdoor Schools program to get kids out of the classroom and Missouri’s Outdoor Families to help parents and their children step out together.
But it’s not just about what we can do as an agency, it’s about what we can do as individuals, communities and organizations—do on lots of levels—to help ensure healthy generations ahead. At that same conference, I asked Charles Jordan, chairman of the Conservation Fund, what beyond the big idea of connecting kids and nature can we actually do. He suggested, “Don’t preach, don’t teach. Just ask questions.” Then he gave an easy example. “Stand with a child by a tree and simply breathe in and out. Now ask that child what happened. Then explain that you breathed out dirty air, and the tree breathed it in and cleaned it. Just keep it simple and close to home.”
We’ll be working with other state agencies and organizations in Missouri to help parents and schools ensure that their children can make those healthy outdoor connections.