Thursday, February 21, 2008

Reflecting Upon Richard Louv and the Child-Nature Movement

by Carla Otredosky, Youth Programs Coordinator, The Groundwater Foundation

On Tuesday, February 19, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture given by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” at the Lied Center for Performing Arts here in Lincoln, NE.

As an environmental educator and self-proclaimed nature-lover, I am both professionally and personally interested in the movement that is sweeping the world to reconnect people with nature. While the lifestyles of today’s youth wires kids to electronics, leads to childhood obesity, and spurs an increase in attention deficit disorder, there is a new movement gaining momentum. We have the tools and the know-how to make this change and get people back outdoors.

I was motivated by Louv and his stories of people he has met, just like me, who are emotionally connected to the Earth and who are concerned that today’s children have missed out on establishing that same emotional connection. Louv illustrated the image of a grey-haired farmer he met, wearing cowboy boots, denim jeans and a Stetson, who was moved to tears by memories of the land he so loves. Louv described a woman, whose fondest memories of the environment include riding on the back of her horse as she leaned over to pluck bright orange survey sticks from the rolling hills of land near her home. Louv himself, admits to retreating to happy memories from his own childhood, constructing tree houses with scavenged materials in the wooded area just beyond his own backyard. It was during his solitary moments in these woods, that he called his own, where he fell madly in love with nature.

Hearing these stories made me ask myself, at what point in time did I fall madly in love with nature? For me, it is hard to pinpoint an exact time or place. However, I know that my parents had a heavy hand it. As an infant, I spent many of my weekends secured in a car seat in the back of their Jeep as we 4-wheeled off-road through the Rocky Mountains. My parents took my brother and I on a variety of camping trips every other weekend during the summers when we were growing up. We camped in tents, a pop-up trailer, and even owned a motor home for several years. One of my favorite camp grounds that we frequented was named Colorado Heights Camp Ground. There, my brother and I were given free reign to run, play, dig, catch, and explore until sunset. In high school, I went to a week-long summer camp where we back-packed (yes, carried all of our food and supplies on our backs) in the Pikes Peak Wilderness Area. It was exhausting, the food was terrible, and the nights were cold…but I loved every minute of it!

I consider myself lucky to have been given a childhood with so many experiences in nature. Imagining my childhood without these adventures makes me feel sad. Without nature, I believe I would be a different person, with different values. But more importantly, I believe that sharing these memories and experiences with others is a vital part of the process to reconnect humanity with nature.

I am interested to know; what is your story? What is your fondest memory of time spent outdoors in nature? Why is nature important in your life? What childhood or adult experiences have you had that shape who you are today?


Jamie said...

There are so many benefits to our physical, mental, and spiritual health that can be received from spending time in nature. It deeply concerns me that many children in today’s world are not exposed to nature and will not reap these benefits.

This past Tuesday, I also attended the lecture by Richard Louv at the Lied Center for Performing Arts in Lincoln. Here Richard Louv told of a story and photo he had seen in a magazine. The photo was of a young boy, running down a California beach, with eyes wide and filled with joy. The story explained that this boy was hyperactive, had struggled in school, and ultimately was kicked out. This child’s parents had observed that child, when in nature, was calm as if nature soothed him. So over the next few years the parents took their child to beaches, forests, rivers, and sand dunes, to let nature do its work. Richard Love then explained that the boy was Ansel Adams.

What if Ansel Adam grew up in today’s world? What if he spent hours playing video games and watching television instead of running down beaches and through forests? We probably would not have the amazing gallery of photographs he took throughout the American west. This gift could have been lost. What other gifts are we losing by not taking our children to these wondrous places?

One of my favorite stories is The Starfish Thrower by Loren Eiseley. The story is of a man walking down a beach where hundreds of starfish have been washed ashore. The man sees a child who is throwing the starfish back into the ocean. The man asks the child what he is doing. The child responds to the man that he is saving the starfish. The man, knowing that there are hundreds of starfish scattered down miles of beach, told the child that he could not possibly save all the starfish, that he could not make a difference. The child picked up another starfish and as he threw it into the ocean said, “It made a difference to that one.”

While the issue of children being disconnected from nature is vast, leading just one child down a winding trail, letting him or her run with eyes wide and filled with joy can make a difference.

Anonymous said...

As a fair skinned, red-head I have many memories of playing outside or boating on lakes in Iowa and Minnesota then suffering for days afterwards. The pain didn't stop me, instead I played under the cover of the woods or at night when our woods became even more magical and mysterious.

Long road trips with my family as we drove across the midwest to visit grandparents were the perfect time to gaze at the big skies over cornfields. On these trips I discovered my favorite color with each sunset - skyblue-pink, in all of its glorious shades.

As a young adult I found my calling as an outdoor educator. It came to me after many days of searching for aquatic insects in the streams of Fontenelle Forest. Each day I would emerge ecstatic from collecting with kids and we would be covered in muck and creek water.

Later when I became a paid naturalist I would lead classes on hikes and many teachers would tell me about the students to watch out for because they had ADD or ADHD. However, what always amazes me is that these students were rarely a problem outside and on the trail. Instead they are the most engaged, confident, curious and excited. It is that sense of wonder and excitement that drives me to encourage others to explore nature and enjoy the outdoors.

Anonymous said...

I feel I must speak for all those adults that do not necessarily enjoy the outdoors (I went camping once - it rained - I'm done for life). I realize even though my idea of a good time is staying inside and reading a book, my kids need to get outside.

When I was a kid I lived with an avid fisherman; he took me fishing a lot. Did I fish? No - I talked to him (a one-sided conversation which prepared me well for dealing with the strong, silent male type) or read a book. But during all those hours sitting on the shore or in a boat, I developed an appreciation for natural things.

As a parent I can see my kids benefit from spending time outdoors. If nothing else, it wears them out so they sleep better. Will they develop a profound love for nature by mucking through wet leaves? I don't know. What I do know is I have to let them muck.

Anonymous said...

One stormy spring day we were out in woods and came across a huge rock cliff when the rain started. We huddled closer toward the side of the rocks to sheild ourselves from the wind and rain, when suddenly we noticed millions of tiny snails coming out of the porous rock, it was awesome to watch. Natures secrets unfold at certain times under certain conditions before the naked eye!

Anonymous said...

I have so many fond memories of interacting with nature in my youth. I grew up on a farm and was generally sent outside after breakfast and only returned to the house for lunch and dinner. I spent hours building forts and hideouts in the trees, playing hide and seek among hay bales, fishing in the pond, staring at the clouds while laying in the grass, the smell of freshly cut alfalfa, playing in the creek and getting covered in mud, and generally having a ball! I know my children likely won't get to have some of those same experiences, simply because the world we live in has changed drastically since I was a child. Nature now has to compete with video games, the internet, cable television, cell phones, sports, etc. I think it's important for parents to realize the benefits of letting their children simply be outside, use their imagination, and get lost with nature. I know my experiences outdoors when I was a child helped make me the person I am today - and those experiences created memories that will last a lifetime.