It seems like a no-brainer. You have a favourite painting that you look at all of the time, it makes you happy when you see it, people who visit admire its beauty. If it falls and breaks you would be very upset about the destruction of this painting. Your family who value art and know its importance in the world would be disappointed. Your neighbour, who stops by for a cup of tea and tells you it brings her a sense of calm to look at it, would be miserable. Art enthusiasts would feel your pain at its loss. On the other hand, people who have never seen that painting, or did not grow up with an interest in art probably won’t lose a night’s sleep over it. The same goes for the environment. Except, unlike the painting, we need the environment for the very air we breathe.
I’ll show my cards straight away. I’m in my mid-twenties and don’t have children of my own, so no, I haven’t had to experience the tantrum that unfolds as you pull a computer game out of a ten year old’s hands and march them out through the rain showers to look at trees. What I can bring however, are my varied experiences working with children after the tantrum, when they have gotten outdoors minus said electrical devices. And I can say with all honesty, it has always been wonderful. Unless every child I have ever worked with has been incredibly polite, I have never had an experience where they dragged their feet and trekked around grumbling the whole time.
I have been lucky enough to work with both schools and with families who bring their children along to nature events that I have organised. This variety means I have encountered children who come from families who spend every weekend outdoors to children from families where nature would be very low on the priority list. If I knew nothing about their backgrounds and their previous involvement in nature, I can still say they always react the same… with a great eagerness to get involved and hands on with the natural world around them. From my experiences, I strongly believe that the majority of children enjoy being outdoors.
Over the last two weeks I have noticed an article written for the Guardian by George Monbiot in 2012 repeatedly popping up in my Twitter newsfeed. Titled “If Children Lose Contact with Nature They Won’t Fight for it,” it very aptly describes one of the points I am trying to make. Monbiot writes “Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it.” It seems the world is (hopefully) catching on to this and taking action. The Wildlife Trusts in the UK have launched a new “Every Child Wild” campaign. This initiative has a number of aspects, including a practical guide to family adventures (The Art of Getting Children Outdoors), a podcast with young people, daily blogs in November and more. A link to more information on this is provided at the end of this article. A White House initiative in the United States is currently aiming to get fourth graders and their families out into National Parks for free. “Every Kid in a Park” sees all children in the fourth grade get a pass that provides free access to national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and more (link below). This great initiative is helping to get kids out in nature through the removal of some of the financial barriers.
Maybe you don’t live in the countryside with a view of native trees and cute little critters scrambling along your back fence. That doesn’t matter. You can still get the kids involved with the beautiful and fascinating creatures of our planet. Have a tiny back garden in an urban setting? Stick up a bird feeder and wait for the birds to come to you. Living in an apartment block with a tiny balcony? Create your own nature! Plant some native flowers from seed and watch them grow. Garden log piles can be turned into bug hotels. Many areas now have community allotments that you could get involved in with your kids. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of seeing something you planted grow and flourish. You can even just head out to the park. Many cities have urban parks. Look at the ducks or crunch and stomp through the autumn leaves. You don’t have to hike for miles into the wilderness. Getting into nature is simple. I know I appreciate all of the times my parents brought me on trips to the woods, beach or just into our garden.
Why stop with children? We should be engaging ourselves intensively with our natural environment on a regular basis. I don’t mean you need to go out and roll around in freshly cut grass or thread daisies through your hair (although if that helps you can!), but just to actively take in the nature surrounding you. This means appreciating what is around you, and not just because it would make the perfect backdrop for your Facebook cover photo. Breathe in the fresh air, listen to what’s around you and feel the connection to the natural world that you don’t have when your face is 15 inches from a computer screen. Don’t believe me that it works? A quick Google search of the advantages to your mental and physical health of being in nature will save me typing on for another 20 pages. Starting Them Not-So-Young: Getting the Grown-ups into Nature is for my next article however.
Monbiot, G. (2012). The Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/nov/19/children-lose-contact-with-nature
National Park Foundation. http://www.nationalparks.org/ook/every-kid-in-a-park