Young kids may be getting media savvy earlier, but many have never seen a campfire or been on a hiking trail, and wouldn’t know a wilderness experience if it bit ‘em on the backside.
In fact, a British study akin to the ‘Ronald McDonald vs. the President’ face recognition phenom where kids could name the clown but not the nation’s leader found that 8-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name “otter, beetle, and oak tree.”
Even if you get them in the wilderness, some truly don’t know how to deal. Research is bearing this out…
Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv talks of kids’ “nature deficit disorder” and I’m inclined to hike into his camp with full footed surety.
It’s amazed me repeatedly, whether teaching wildlife to brownie troops or asking first graders to sit still and hush in a grass field for only two minutes to observe the world around them coming alive.
They just can’t do it. They squirm and shift from boredom. They interrupt the silence. Want immediate gratification. Start whining, “I don’t see anything” as you shush them to point out the ant, the water droplet on the blade of grass, the breeze blowing the ladybug’s wings…
It’s as if their eyes don’t see anymore. Their ears don’t know how to pick up the frequency of the calm. The more urban and wired they become the more deaf and blind they are to the pleasures of pristine experiences.
Sure, emerging technology offers new tools and ways to interpret the world…but we need to “turn down the media volume” enough to understand what we’re LOSING as well as gaining.
Louv speaks of our “growing addiction to electronic media, the relinquishment of green spaces to development, parents’ exaggerated fears of natural and human predators, and also of nature providing powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and ADD.”
Granted, Roosevelt got on this bandwagon first, but Louv adds new studies on the restorative qualities and positive benefits that media-hyped Millenials should NOT ignore. (just look at the Summer Search success I blogged about earlier, and what it did for the high schoolers who had never been exposed!)
Arguably, if you don’t expose kids early on, media prevalence will only increase in tween years and beyond, as the British study reiterated, “During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokémon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50 per cent of common wildlife species.”
My tween daughter’s lucky enough to live on a funky island building tree forts, catching jacksmelt, wandering freely and playing in the muddy muck of the coastal shoreline, yet only minutes away from the City’s urban delights.
She’s outdoors with her posse of island pals constantly…But that’s RARE, for none of her suburban school peers are!
They shuttle to nonstop activities and live amidst manicured lawns and square fenced plots. They’re wired with the latest gizmos and are more apt to get their environmental education via science project or a roundup resource than a hike on a dirty trail.
Media’s great and kids love it, but children need to be in nature early and often. It’s integral for them to figure out how everything smushes together and one thing impacts another. From ecosystems and rainforests to famine, war, poverty, and pollution, children are unable to grok the whole ‘one world’ picture until we spell it out for them.
Sure, some kids will prefer indoor media to outdoor pleasures, but unless we make it our duty to expose them to the wonders of nature, there’s little hope they’ll ever give a flying fig.
We don’t protect what we don’t know, and that applies to the extinction of a species, a natural resource, or an entire culture.
Ironically, interactive info offers inspiring ideas, games, puzzles and clubs to get kids jazzed about being outdoors!
Here are a few positive picks of online & offline media to get kids to ‘take a hike’:
Sharing Nature with Children: An age-gauged book of fun ideas that engage kids in an eco-revealing way without the preach and teach banter. Perfect to toss in the glove box for an impromptu outdoor adventure, whether it’s the ‘web of life’ game or a scavenger hunt in a forest or a park, it details what you need, how many kids and which age it suits. It has a sequel that’s great too.
And here are a couple more that I like: Nature in a Nutshell for Kids: Over 100 Activities You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: This site has a wonderful round-up of a gazillion links and resources from online games and quizzes to conservation, animal/eco-friendly fun, and solid waste/gross out science, almost all geared to “tweens” 9-14.
The Green Dollhouse Project: Kids learn about sustainable building through energy efficiency, nontoxic materials, water conservation, and more. This one site is a portal of useful links to renown entities like the Rocky Mountain Institute where kids can explore the art of eco-design, ‘going green,’ and ‘living off the grid.’
Whole Foods for Kids, Healthy Snack Alternatives: Backpack with some decent chow, learn some basics on berry-picking, (what they look like and what to eat in the wild) & discover leaves, herbs and edibles found in nature for wilderness survival.