Lessons & Reflections from the National Butterfly Center
Children today spend an average of 7.5 minutes outside for every 7 hours they spend online.
Just let that sink in.
This statement by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, silenced the packed room at the opening ceremony of the Children & Nature International Conference.
I signed up to attend and traveled to St. Paul for one specific reason, and suddenly, my agenda was blown.
At times like these I have to pull back—way back—to see the big picture. And sometimes it eludes me.
The problem with getting children outdoors is that it’s impossible without getting adults outdoors, too.
While a child’s innate curiosity, boundless energy and fearless innocence will naturally lead them outdoors to play and explore, adults seem determined to quash this. Why?
Every day we hear parents and teachers reiterate the same message: Outside is scary and full of strange creatures. Danger, Will Robinson! Danger! Only it’s not some brave new world of unknown planets and aliens awaiting beyond our air conditioned doors; it’s Earth, our home for millennia.
How have we come to this? In just one generation, adults and their children have become so estranged from our environment they are now ignorant of its beauty, bounty and brilliance. Over the short course of twenty years, parents are prosecuted for letting their children play in the yard without supervision; and we revile everything from metal toys and sandboxes, to trees and honeybees, for the harm they may do in a world we wish to sanitize for the protection of our young.
The end result: we now have the most sedentary, sequestered, overweight and over-medicated population in the history of humankind. Is it really any surprise the digital and pharmaceutical suppression of our biological programming to be outdoors is creating a plethora of physical and mental health issues in both adults and children, directly tied to the dearth of time spent outside?
How do we reverse this trend?
Someone spoke up in one of our break-out sessions at the conference; she said, “I think it all comes down to making people feel safe and smart in the outdoors, again.”
This was my big take-away and the task we will focus on going forward.
We have to introduce today’s parents and teachers to the outdoors, again. We have to give them words, skills, understanding and experiences that will empower them to lead their children into an unfamiliar realm. Not only do we need to help them feel confident and appear competent, we must also make it fun and magical—if we expect to compete with the colorful, comfortable, virtual world where risks are rewarded, injuries are painless and even death is short-lived.
Ridiculous as it may sound, we must start by acknowledging the fact that danger lurks everywhere for the uninitiated. Simply stated, the natural world IS full of mysterious beings with the power to do good or evil, and our job at this juncture in history is to re-calibrate the course, so future generations are equipped to face every frontier and boldly go where they have not gone before.
Image (C) Judith Conradi, aka Deltalou at www.deviantart.com