The evidence is mounting that there are vital physical and emotional benefits from letting children play freely in Nature, and that the lack of this access has created a poisonous brew of problems for our kids. But there are other, even more urgent reasons for reintroducing our young to the natural world.
When we shelter children from the outdoors, or only allow them access in highly managed, supervised environments like playing fields, we remove them from much more than just the opportunity to get fresh air and exercise.
Most adults, Pagan or not, can reminisce with you about happy childhood days in tree forts, exploring an empty lot down the street, catching tadpoles, watching birds, or riding bikes for hours, far away from the grown-ups.
But what if none of that ever happened? Imagine your childhood being one where you lived in a totally controlled, man-made environment — playing video games, watching TV indoors, and maybe interacting with the outdoor world on occasional special family visits, as if it was a trip to a museum. Imagine that your every outdoor “play date” was a carefully supervised appointment, complete with plenty of warnings and instructions for every possible situation.
To the children reared in this milieu, Nature is never their friend, but at best, a neutral background as they ride around in the car. It may be noticed when determining whether the ball game goes on, or what kind of clothes your mom makes you wear, or what time the lights come on and go off. At worst, it is a chaotic, destructive enemy, with images of news reporters being pounded by hurricanes, terrifying videos of monster tornados, and people made homeless by fires and floods.
There is very little modeling that shows why the natural world is important, much less good. A TV announcer may be excited and encouraging when discussing lions or rainforests on the cable station. But this is just as fascinating and, ultimately, unreal as the characters in a Playstation game.
If kids don’t connect with Nature, how will they develop into caring stewards of the environment? What personal stake is there in preserving and honoring the wild?
Yes, discussions about climate change or other environmental issues may be intellectually understood, but if your experiences with Nature are non-existent, or if you absorb the message that Nature is hostile, why would you care about preserving it?
Ultimately, we are creating generations who will have very different values regarding the priority of the natural world. In a world of competing, scarce resources, what will they choose regarding Arctic drilling for oil, especially with the mega-million dollar ad campaigns already underway that reassure us it is all being done wisely and with great care?
What difference, really, does it make if spotted owls go extinct? Why wouldn’t they vote in favor of mountain-top removal for that all-important extra bit of coal to keep the machines going?
If you think that the “dumbing down” of our children’s educational system has been ominous, wait till you see what happens when generations of kids grow up with no reverence or value for the world of Nature.
If this is too depressing, don’t despair. Next week, by the Grace of Thalia, we’ll see that all is not lost.