"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." - Baba Dioum, 1968
I am sure many of us have fond memories of spending time outdoors as a child. Personally, I spent my childhood days wandering around the woods behind my parents' house. I would splash in the stream, turning over rocks to search for crayfish and salamanders. I built forts from logs, went fishing, caught fireflies at night, and would frequently camp out under the stars. I did not realize it then, but these experiences shaped my life and my connection to the natural world.
Today, many children do not have this exposure to nature. Children have moved indoors both at home and at school. Many children can identify a piece of technology before they can identify a chipmunk or a squirrel. The lack of access to nature along with the push for children to excel in technology, is changing how children play, interact, and even develop. In Richard Louv's book "Last Child in the Woods," he introduces the term Nature Deficit Disorder. This is not a medical diagnosis, but rather describes the growing gap between human beings and nature. This gap is not only impacting how we view nature, but also affecting our overall health and well-being.
In the past few years, there has been a push in schools, nature centers, community organizations, and households throughout the world to get children outdoors. Many parents are realizing the benefits a connection with nature can instill in their children. They are also becoming aware of the amount of time children are spending "plugged in" and the effects that has on their physical and mental health. Studies show that spending time outdoors can decrease the risk of many mental and physical health issues our youth face today. With more studies coming out each year, the push to get children outdoors will continue to rise.
At the Rye Nature Center, Nature Deficit Disorder is not a new term or a buzzword. All of our programs are designed to connect individuals to nature. We believe that the best way to foster a lifelong connection to nature is by engaging in meaningful outdoor activities as a child. That's why in all of our programs we spend as much time outside as possible and use nature as the primary teacher. Our classes help children to develop socially, gain confidence in the outdoors, and encourage physical activity through nature-based learning and exploration.
By giving these experiences to children at such a young age, we will hopefully instill a lifelong bond with nature. They will hopefully remember their childhood days spent splashing in mud puddles, building forts, exploring under rocks and logs, and most of all the connection they made with nature.
- Emily Embick, Environmental Educator