One of the highlights of my summer break so far has been taking my kids to the local forest preserve to hike the trails and play in the creek that runs through it. All three of them really seem to enjoy spending time there. They are only three years old and without these trips, it's possible that they could have very little exposure to nature during their childhood.
I just can't let that happen. As a child, I spent a great deal of time running through the woods in my neighborhood and as a result, I am comfortable in natural settings. Unfortunately, there are many people my age who haven't really spent much time in the woods or any other natural setting. It's not surprising that they have no appreciation for nature at all.
With this in mind, I was recently turning through Backpacker magazine when I came across an article titled "Wilderness Kids," about a group of kids who took part in a 600-mile wilderness expedition in Vermont. The journey was called the Vermont Semester and was organized by a group called the Kroka Expeditions adventure camp to revive "the wilderness journey as a rite of passage." The founder, Misha Golfman, sees more kids on medication with flickering attention spans due to stunted imaginations from lack of exposure to nature.
According to research cited in the article, Golfman is correct. Diagnoses of ADHD have skyrocketed at a time when visits to national parks have declined. Other research has shown that children as young as five showed significant reduction in ADHD symptoms when they engaged with nature. Several books have been published on nature deficit disorder. Author David Sobel makes the point that we can't expect kids to become concerned about big environmental problems if we don't give them positive, direct experiences with nature first.
As much as I love technology and advocate its use in the classroom, I believe that we must balance its use with time in natural settings. Put the iPod away, turn off the television, shut down the computer, and get out to your local woods, state or national park. Teach your kids to appreciate the incredible diversity of life outside your house or classroom.
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