It's just by coincidence that I was listening to a couple of podcasts tonight during the Forums chat hour and afterwards while doing some online research for work. I listened to a couple of past episodes of Talk of Alaska from Alaska Public Radio. This is one of my favorite podcasts! One of the episodes featured (mainly) Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, and a variety of callers. I know several of you have read this book; I myself read it a couple of years ago and have heard Louv talk several times.
Among the topics discussed was the concept of people who are scared of "nature". Often times, I think this fear is basically a fear of the unknown. During my stay in Alaska a couple of years ago, numerous visitors to the state asked me about seeing (and being attacked by!) bears. I saw lots of bear scat, but no bears outside of Denali National Park. Seriously. It was a bit disappointing, but totally expected! In my experience, bears generally try to stay away from humans, unless they are food-habituated near cities, campgrounds, etc.
But I digress.
Today's children generally don't have the same set of outdoor experiences that their parents/grandparents did. They, instead, play video games and/or watch TV. Today's kids might very well know every animal living in the Amazon forests, thanks to Animal Planet (which in itself is NOT bad), but really don't recognize the robins in the trees in their own backyards.
Monday morning, I had the priviledge of trekking with some 7th and 8th graders from Seattle out into the woods and snowy slopes of the park. Most of these kids were really out of their element. The girls were concerned that their cell phones weren't working; the boys were asking if they'd see bears. (Aren't bears in winter lethargy or hibernation this time of year?! They are up here.)
After addressing their concerns and heading out on the trail, most of the kids in the group seemed to enjoy themselves - particularly when we reached the sliding hill.
As a nation, we really need to work harder at getting our kids away from technology - even if it is just for an hour every day - and get them outside. Unstructured play outdoors forces them to use their senses and their imagination. It generates problem-solving skills and a broader sense of community. Perhaps if we get our kids interested in the park down the street, they will form a sense of place within themselves, and learn to not only enjoy their community but work towards preserving and bettering said community.
IDEA #1: Family Play Dates at the Park. Invite a neighboring family (or a family from school, church, etc.) to join your family at the local city or county park for a picnic and some frisbee time. Let the kids feel the sunshine on their faces and the wind in their hair. You'll see. They'll have fun.
Need further ideas? Look at Children & Nature. Tons of ideas and stories to get your family moving outdoors!
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