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Thoughts on Giving Children the Gift of Nature

LeilahandsFor most of us, this time of year is associated with gathering, feasting, celebrating, and gift giving. For the children in our lives, it is a particularly exciting season. Many a toy, game, action figure, and electronic device will be unwrapped in the next few days.  There is one very important gift, however, that may have been overlooked.

Though it cannot be purchased or wrapped, and though it’s unlikely to appear on many wish lists or letters to Santa Claus, a fun and meaningful experience in nature is something we all ought to consider giving to the children in our lives. Their health and well-being—and the future of our planet—may even depend on it.

What do we really know about the importance of unstructured play in nature? How did this topic end up on the agenda at the IUCN’s World Conservation Congress this fall?  What can we—as practitioners and as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends of kids—do to rebuild the deteriorating connection between children and the natural world?

Girl&FlowersWe begin exploring this subject by chatting with author Richard Louv, who coined the phrase “nature deficit disorder” when he wrote Last Child in the Woods in 2005. The co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, Louv is widely credited with sparking an international movement to reconnect children with nature.

One of the first sparks to ignite was in Canada, where Louv’s writing provided biologist Bob Peart with such a renewed sense of hope and purpose that he founded the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada. We were delighted to talk with him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr. Stephen R. Kellert, Tweedy Ordway Professor Emeritus of Social Ecology and Senior Research Scholar at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies shares a piece he wrote just for this issue. Much of Dr. Kellert’s work, including his new book Birthright: People and Nature in the Modern World, focuses on understanding human need and affinity for nature.

We take a look at some communities who are tackling nature deficit disorder through their schools and government.  Learn what can happen When Nature is Your Classroom and when local government officials view Connecting Children to Nature as Public Service.

AndreiWith help from Biohabitats’ Bioregion leaders, we shine our non-profit spotlight on a few organizations that are actively connecting kids to nature through innovative programs and services.

We provide resources for those of you who want to learn more, and we share the latest about what we’ve been up to at Biohabitats.

This issue of Leaf Litter has given all of us at Biohabitats an opportunity to pause and think about the importance of sharing our passion for nature with young people. We hope that the smiling children in the photos included in this issue (many of whom are members of the Biohabitats family) serve as a reminder of the good that comes from giving the gift of nature.

Let us know what you think of the issue!

Run-of-the-Mill Mom Gives Gift of Nature

In addition to being Biohabitats’ communications director and the editor of Leaf Litter (an e-pub for folks in ecological restoration, conservation planning and regenerative design), I’m a mom.  I’d love to say I’m one of those “I-made-my-own-baby-food-from-veggies-I-lovingly-grew-in-my-organic-backyard-garden” types, but the truth is I’m an ordinary, working, suburban mom. I do have chickens in my backyard, and I do drive a Prius, but I’m no eco-hero. I have occasionally (gasp!) eaten an out-of-season fruit, thrown a potato peel into the trash rather than the compost bin, and, in the rush to get dinner on the table after work, allowed my kids a shameful amount of screen time.

Editing Leaf Litter is always inspiring. I get to interview fascinating, brilliant people who are making this world a more just, biodiverse, and hopeful place. (In other words, they’re doing a lot more than raising chickens and driving a Prius).  But my work on the Children & Nature issue of Leaf Litter affected me on a deeply personal level. It motivated me to get involved in the movement to connect children to nature and it caused me to seriously examine my own behavior as a parent. On that note, I’d like to share a little story.

After interviewing Richard Louv, the man who coined the phrase “nature-deficit disorder” in his book Last Child in the Woods, and Bob Peart, founder of the Child & Nature Alliance of Canada, I felt compelled to take my son (8) and daughter (9) out for a hike on an old trolley trail in my town.B&N Initially, they didn’t want to go, so I bribed them by offering to buy them each a hot chocolate when we got to the end of the trail. Two minutes into the hike, they were laughing, running, noticing birds, and actually being nice to each other. They even smiled together for a picture. (See!→)

Three minutes in, they asked if they could veer off the trail to climb some rocks and explore the nearby stream. My first instinct was to say, “No! That’s too dangerous and we have to make it to the coffee shop for hot chocolate before dark!”  Remembering my chats with Richard and Bob, and thinking back to research I had read about how parents’ perceptions of safety contribute to the decline in kids’ outdoor experiences, I caught myself, and said instead, “Sure! Go explore.”

Tears actually came to my eyes as I watched my kids climb up and slide down the rocks on their bottoms (unharmed, I might add). When my daughter fell in the creek (as a girl who hikes in flats will inevitably do) she laughed. We all laughed.

We never did make it to the coffee shop, but we had a beautiful afternoon together that I will remember for a long time.  I view that experience as a gift from people like Richard Louv, Bob Peart, Stephen Kellert, and all of the folks around the globe who give their time to help ensure that a child’s right to enjoy nature is forever protected.  In thanks, I encourage all of you to give the children in your lives the gift of nature!

Amy & her bunch (after the fall in the creek)

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