The Grace Thalia bestows upon us Her gifts of flowering, growth and mirth. But how do we ensure that our children are included in Her bounty?
As I’ve been discussing, it is vital that our youngsters be encouraged to develop their own private, intimate relationship with the natural world. Thanks to the heightened awareness of leaders like Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, powerful changes are occurring. In a recent interview in Orion Magazine, he offered a number of the insights I’ve included today.
For instance, now there is widespread institutional support and corroborating medical evidence. But for a long time, one family at a time, parents have connected the dots and discovered effective ways to help their kids. Many have noticed significant changes in their children’s stress levels and hyperactivity when they spend time playing outside.
“My son is still on Ritalin,” one mother says, “but he’s so much calmer in the outdoors that we’re seriously considering moving to the mountains.” Could it simply be that he needs more physical activity? “No, he gets that, in sports,” she says.
The back page of a recent issue of San Francisco Magazine displayed a photo of a little boy, eyes wide with excitement and joy, leaping and running on a great expanse of California beach, storm clouds and towering waves behind him. A short article explained that the boy was hyperactive, he had been kicked out of his school, and his parents had not known what to do with him—but they had observed how nature engaged and soothed him. So for years they took their son to beaches, forests, dunes, and rivers to let nature do its work.
The photograph was taken in 1907. The boy was Ansel Adams.
Nature-themed schools have begun sprouting up nationwide, like the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center Preschool, where, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in April 2006, “a 3-year-old can identify a cedar tree and a maple—even if she can’t tell you what color pants she’s wearing. And a 4-year-old can tell the difference between squirrel and rabbit tracks—even if he can’t yet read any of the writing on a map. Young children learn through the sounds, scents, and seasons of the outdoors.”
Louv writes, “Nonprofit environmental organizations are also showing a growing interest in how children engage with nature. In early 2006, the Sierra Club intensified its commitment to connecting children to nature through its Inner City Outings program for at-risk youths, and it has ramped up its legislative efforts in support of environmental education.
“The National Wildlife Federation is rolling out the Green Hour, a national campaign to persuade parents to encourage their children to spend one hour a day in nature.” Their website offers lots of ideas for families to enjoy the outdoors together.
Louv points out, “The leave-no-child-inside movement could become one of the best ways to challenge other entrenched conceptions—for example, the current, test-centric definition of education reform. Bring unlike-minded people through the doorway to talk about the effect of society’s nature-deficit on child development, and pretty soon they’ll be asking hard questions: Just why have school districts canceled field trips and recess and environmental education? And why doesn’t our school have windows that open and natural light?
“At a deeper level, when we challenge schools to incorporate place-based learning in the natural world, we will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.”
As Pagans and Witches, it is especially important that we support and accelerate these efforts. I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow.