Here’s a quote from one of today’s electronic-gadget-loving kids: "The reason I prefer playing indoors is because that’s where all the electrical outlets are."
That was shared by Richard Louv (Grist interview here), author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, during a conference call I hosted recently for the Orion Grassroots Network, to catch us up on what’s new in the "getting kids back into nature" movement (full audio here). Turns out there’s a lot.
The book documents how outdoor, unstructured play is critical to child development — and is a bestseller, now in its 14th printing in five languages. But the amazing thing about this issue is that it really has legs, even with the notoriously finicky news media. Major outlets have printed multiple stories on the "indoor kids crisis" in the two years since the book came out. Even the 700 Club’s Christian Broadcasting Network is concerned. Why? Louv has a couple thoughts about that.
During the conversation, he stated his contention that as a society, we’re hungry for hope, and for something to agree on. This issue is hopeful in that people realize they can do something about it, today, unlike the big political and environmental issues of the day. And the benefit to kids is immediate and measurable in numerous ways: outdoor time fights disturbing childhood trends like obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
And he says that the issue brings people together regardless of creed, geographic locale, or political designation: a recent congressional subcommittee Louv testified for broke down into a series of reminiscences about special outdoor places which legislators from both parties pointed to as key to their childhoods. Heck, even developers and realtors are in the thick of this issue.
In answer, many regional efforts are sprouting to devise projects to get kids outside for unstructured play (and with their parents, too). This is one of the other big realizations: the parents of young kids themselves are in great need of outdoor time away from the kids’ many activities, school, work, etc. And then there’s the No Child Left Inside Act proposed in the U.S. Congress — H.R. 3036 — which would create a $100 million environmental education grant program as well as authorize spending from the "Fund for the Improvement of Education" for programs associated with the measure.
It seems like a simple thing, getting kids outside — but in an era when green space is shrinking and parents worry for their kids’ safety when alone in the out-of-doors, kids need all the help they can get. And the planet is going to need lots more kids from this generation that are not only computer-literate, but earth-literate.