Friday, August 12, 2011

Naturally Important

By: Lacy Sellent, Writing Fellow at the Cable Natural History Museum

In the past, children seldom thought twice about going outside to play. There were always things to do—no matter the weather or the time of year. Rain was great for puddle jumping. Snow was great for fort building and tunneling. Even the wind could be counted on to provide fun. Nature brought something new and exciting each day.

The bond a child forms with nature is one that will not be broken quickly, even into adulthood. Being outside can teach lessons in patience, calm, and respect. Now that many of today’s generation no longer go outside, people are realizing just how important nature’s role has been.

One man in particular has researched and written about nature’s importance in our lives. His name is Richard Louv, and he is the author of the national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. In the book, Louv explores the many benefits of time spent in the outdoors. He also presents studies that show the negative effects of sitting in front of a television.

One such study was done by Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, Washington. It found that “each hour of TV watched per day by preschoolers increases by 10 percent the likelihood that they will develop concentration problems and other symptoms of attention-deficit disorders by age seven.” As with many things, moderation is the key. A little television may be educational—a lot of television may be disruptive.

This is part of the reason why nature is so important to us. Another reason is that it can be a great stress reliever. While interviewing children across the United States, Louv found that many of the kids who went outside enjoyed a sense of freedom there. There was freedom from school and chores. There was freedom from scheduled activities. There was freedom from time itself. When given true “free time” to explore and experience the outdoors, kids (and adults too) really begin to relax. They can sense their own power and potential. Their imaginations can take off. Some kids learned about engineering indirectly while building tree houses. Others learned about ecosystems while playing along lakes and streams.

Nature can be a great educational tool, and an effective stress reliever. Problem is, we’re losing our connection to the natural world. A study at the University of Maryland found that kids between the ages of nine and twelve spent fifty percent less time outside in 2003 as they did in 1997. In a survey (from Manhattanville College in New York) of eight hundred mothers, seventy one percent said they played outside everyday as a kid. Sadly, only twenty six percent of these same mothers said that their children play outside every day.

It’s not just kids who could benefit from having more contact with nature. Louv recently published a second book, called The Nature Principle, because of the overwhelming response his first book received from adults. “It’s not just the children!” they said. Adults reap all the same mental, physical and emotional benefits from time in nature that kids do, and we also feel many of the same negative effects when there’s a lack of nature in our lives.

It is clear that many people are missing out on the benefits of the outdoors. Luckily, up here in the Northwoods we can still enjoy wild nature right outside our doors. Fall is one of the best times to be outside in Northern Wisconsin. Mosquitoes aren’t as plentiful, the air is cool and crisp, and the sunshine is still warm. Don’t take it all for granted. Get outside and enjoy the season!

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