As human beings, I believe that we are inherently drawn to interact with the natural world around us. In today’s hectic and high tech environment, it is often easy to become detached from nature. Personally, I have a strong physical and mental need to spend time outdoors each day, absorbing the energy from the abundance of life that surrounds me. I witness this same need in my children. It does not take long for Chi-Chi to go stir crazy when confined by the four walls of our home. As soon as he marches out the front door, he becomes engrossed in his surroundings. Our backyard is a far more effective “babysitter” than any television program could ever be. Every morning I enjoy a leisurely cup of tea on the doorstep while Chi-Chi collects pinecones in his wagon or squeals at the discovery of a new rock. I try to make a point to “schedule” time outside each day where he is free to explore and lead the way.
On a recent business trip, my husband sat beside a woman and her 8 year old son. A scene of a child running freely through a lush green field flashed on the in-flight video screen. The little boy turned to his mother and asked, “Mommy, isn’t it dangerous to run through a field like that?” An hour later, while peering out the window, he asked his mother if the rural farm fields were golf courses. Are today’s children so “plugged into” technology and controlled scheduled activities that they have completely lost touch with nature? It concerns me that the potential leaders of tomorrow may not have a hands-on appreciation for the natural world.
I recently read a book that touches on this very issue – Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. It is a must-read for every parent and really emphasizes the importance of providing our children with the opportunity to freely explore and discover the wonders of the natural world. Children need to get their hands dirty so to speak. From a parent’s perspective, this should be an easy goal to achieve. It can be as simple as clearing our kids’ schedules of a few organized activities and sending them out into a natural space to devise their own agenda.
I was very fortunate as a child to have ample opportunities to interact with nature. My sister and I spent endless hours beachcombing for treasures for our shell and fossil collections. We were quick to identify the name of every flowering plant during our family walks on the “country road”. I have my parents to thank for all of this. They provided the freedom we needed to explore and gentle instruction and guidance when required. At the tender age of two, Chi-Chi is showing a keen interest in the sea life at our doorstep. He has his own little shell collection that he sorts through on a daily basis. He is quick to correct anyone who attempts to call a quahog a clam shell! I'm so pleased with all he has learned in nature's classroom. I'm glad I signed him up for this one!