It seems that I have been reading a lot this winter. The book that has stirred my thoughts the most is one written by Richard Louv titled: "The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder."
As many of you know, I firmly believe that we as parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors need to help our children be involved in the out-of-doors. I didn't have more than incidental evidence of the implications of not having outdoors exposure, but this book gave me plenty of insight.
Louv contends that today's children play outside very little and that they have little time for creative play. One of the quotes in the book that somberly struck me was by a fourth grade student: "I like to play indoors ‘cause that's where all the electrical outlets are." Our children are more apt to know how to program a computer than to name the common species of trees, butterflies or birds that are about them.
According to Louv, children lead much more structured lives than when many of us were young. Children often have a full plate of activities that involve school, homework, soccer, hockey, football and chores and have little time for actual play.
Louv reflects on his childhood and how he made tree houses, built dams on the small creeks near his house, and how he captured tadpoles for his aquarium. During the summer his days were spent exploring the vacant lots and nearby wild areas. He, like so many of us, felt completely at home out-of-doors.
Today's children, he contends, have either a fear of nature or think of the creatures that inhabit it as Disney-like -- Gentle Bens or Bambis.
It's hard for me to condense such a provocative book into a couple of pages, but I will try to cover a few things that hit home.
Louv mentioned that children that have attention deficit disorder are usually prescribed a drug such as Ritalin to calm them down so that they won't be disruptive in the classroom. He stated that children with ADD or ADHD who had the opportunity to walk through a grassy, tree-lined park prior to school had as good an attention span as those treated with drugs.
Louv mentioned that at-risk teens from the inner city who underwent a court-ordered trip to an Eskimo village showed a remarkable turnaround in behavior in two weeks. When these kids -- who hadn't been outside of Los Angeles -- saw whales, seals, bears and eagles their sense of wonder developed. They had the opportunity to pick berries and catch fish for their meals and realize that food doesn't come from a supermarket.
Biological science has been turned into molecular science. The breakthroughs in genetics and unlocking the code of DNA has caused humans to look close and ignore the species that compose an ecosystem. Naturalists are a dying breed. There is a need to be able to name a creature. When naturalists and taxonomists are gone, who will identify the invasive species that have crept in? Who will sound the alarm when a rare creature becomes rarer?
Louv calls for us to look at the earth that was created for us to have dominion over, but adds that we need to be stewards of the land. Most of us have our spiritual moments out-of-doors when we are surrounded by God's creation. We find peace and solace when gazing at the night sky or the snow-clad mountains emblazoned across a deep blue sky.
The book urges us to expose our children to nature and to instill in them the awe that a glimpse of an osprey, the call of a sandhill crane, or the chatter of a chickadee can create. Make an effort to introduce our children to nature. You and they will benefit greatly.