Before asking children to save the world, help them to love the world. In a world with strong opinions about the environment and global warming, there are programs for children to educate on how to reduce their impact on the world around them. Ironically, it is also this same world that children spend so little time.
In the past children would spend hours exploring nature, discovering wild life, collecting rocks, walking in streams, picking up bugs and climbing trees. In today’s world, so concerned with the preservation of the environment, our natural resources and our individual impact on that environment, children are indoors playing video games. Latchkey kids are caught up with computers, games, high tech toys, movies and away from exploration of the world around them.
There are studies that show children are actually developing phobias of the outside world. Partly due to the impact of the environmental awareness training they are receiving in hopes that they will want to “save the environment”.
In a paper published in 2005 by the World Forum Foundation, researchers discussed the affects of what one researcher called “childhood of imprisonment”. The research work of the Dimensions Foundation provides convincing evidence that positive, appropriate experiences with nature bring significant benefits to children. A few of these benefits are outlined below:
• Children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), when provided appropriate contact with nature, show an improvement in their ability to concentrate (Taylor 2001)
• Children who regularly have positive personal experiences with the natural world show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility (Grahn, 1997, Fjortoft 2001)
• Appropriate interactions with nature help children develop powers of observation and creativity (Crain 2001)
• The development of imagination and a sense of wonder have been positively linked to children’s early, appropriate experiences with the natural world (Cobb 1997). A sense of wonder is an important motivator for life-long learning (Wilson 1997)
“It is quite possible for today’s child to grow up without ever having taken a solitary walk beside a stream, or spent the hours we used to foraging for pine cones, leaves, feathers and rocks – treasures more precious than store-bought ones. Today it is difficult to tear children away from the virtual world of the mall to introduce them to the real one.” Gary Paul Nabhan and Stephen Trimble, The Geography of Childhood
”Early experiences with the natural world have also been positively linked with the sense of wonder. This way of knowing, if recognized and honored, can serve as a life-long source of joy and enrichment, as well as an impetus, or motivation, for further learning. Sadly, the ability to experience the world…as a source of wonder tends to diminish over time. This seems to be especially true in Western cultures, where for the sake of objective understanding; children are encouraged to focus their learning on cognitive models, rather than on first-hand investigations of the natural environment.” Ruth Wilson, PhD. “The Wonders of Nature: Honoring Children’s Way of Knowing”
Children need time outdoors to love the outdoors. Substituting this explorative time with nature with organized sports and structured outdoor activities does not provide the same bond. Children will benefit, and in the future will develop a love for that same world that they are being asked to save.