Nature Deficit Disorder: that is how author, Richard Louv described contemporary children's separation from the natural world in his book, "Last Child in the Woods." The author suggests that as more and more young people spend less and less time in the natural world and more and more time in the virtual world, they are suffering an important human centric disconnection.
The woods offered me and my friends a variety of opportunities for imaginative play. We used fallen branches to make swords for knuckle-busting sword duels or fiery musket shots. We used the same sticks to make tee-pees, forts or lean-tos. We played war and camouflaged ourselves with leaves, ferns or pine boughs. We crawled on our bellies to escape detection, sometimes on wet or muddy ground. Later, we tracked animals, gasping at the size of tracks that might belong to a bear, bobcat or large buck. We spent countless hours in imaginary play with no adults around to impose their views or opinions.
My parents and my friends' parents would consistently put us outside, whether it be to do chores, ride bikes, go fishing, play tag or to explore the woods. A child who stayed inside all the time was either ill or somehow very different from everyone else. Now the opposite seems to be true. How did we arrive at such a reversal of norms?
To some extent, perhaps we have all been seduced by technological innovations like the I-Phone, the internet, sophisticated video games and on demand movies. Those opportunities were not even conceived of yet when I was a kid. If those technologies had been available, my friends and I might well have got together to play virtual war or some other video game rather than actually playing war.
While the television or the internet are not inherently bad for kids, like anything else, too much is too much. We cannot remove our children from modern technologies; to do so would be to leave them behind. Rather, we need to create more opportunities for children to explore and connect to the natural world.
Many parents are afraid to turn their children loose in today's fearful, media-saturated world where entire television shows are dedicated to the rare but terrifying occurrence of child abduction or molestation.
The lure of sitting around a campfire, perhaps touching a moment experienced by humans for thousands of years is something that is very compelling and comforting. The gathering of the wood, the crack of wet pine catching fire and the smell of smoke as it passes by. Like the smell of campfire smoke on your clothes, these experiences will stay with children long after the lingering smell on their clothes has been washed away. Remember, all kids count
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org