Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Break a Leg - Climb More Trees!

I heard this on Morning Edition this morning.
The popularity of video games may have an unintended safety benefit: fewer children are falling out of trees. Britain's Daily Telegraph reports that hospital admissions for tree-related accidents are way down since 1999. On the other hand, a spike has been seen in repetitive-stress injuries among young people.
I'm not surprised. I grew up in an area of western New York surrounded by open fields and dairy farms. I regularly climbed trees, raced through corn fields, picked raspberries off the vine (and ate them without washing them!), tramped through puddles and creeks, and picked up all manner of slimy, warty, smelly things you can imagine. When I describe these "adventures" to my students, they look at me as if I have three heads. "You did what?" Young people today just don't spend enough time outside in unstructured play.

Richard Louv looks at this issue in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Published in 2005, this book focuses on the term coined by Louv. He uses it to describe the fixation of children today on the artificial entertainment rather than natural wonders. Louv writes, "Our society is teaching young people to avoid direct experience in nature."

Not my kid. I let him play outside in the rain, bathe in mud puddles, plant seeds (from every apple he eats!), explore in the nearby creek, collect acorns, sticks and leaves, and engage in lots of other gloriously dirty and disgusting things. However, not all kids have this luxury. As a teacher in the city of Buffalo, I was amazed at how many of my kids had never seen Niagara Falls (just 30 minutes away) or been to the Buffalo Zoo, a facility within the city limits. We can talk all we want about the power of the Internet and other electronic media to bring the world together, but as far as I'm concerned, too many children reside in worlds that are too small, where the people who care for them don't even take them to local areas of interest.

Why bring this up now? Well, besides being prompted by this morning's news bite, National Environmental Education Week will soon be upon us (April 15-22). Yes, I know that April is National Poetry Month and Math Awareness Month, but I am a science geek at heart and a nature lover. So, check out Last Child in the Woods and then do something about the problems described. Get outside with binoculars or a magnifying glass, put on your listening ears, give yourself permission to get dirty, and just revel in all the amazing things in our natural world. Once you've done that, find a kid and share all this beauty with him or her.

And just in case you need an incentive in the form of a children's book, read My Father's Hands by Joanne Ryder. It is the beautiful story of how a little girl and her father share the wonders of nature when they examine several small creatures in the garden.


  1. It is sad think of children who don't climb trees. Such fun! Such independence! Thanks for making such great points.

  2. Tricia,

    Sometimes I think you're my alter ego...honestly! I really do believe that many of our youth today do suffer from a "nature deficit disorder"--and that too many kids from middle class and affluent families have too little unstructured time to explore the world around them. In addition to being unaware of the science and nature all around them, kids are losing the ability to be thoughtful are careful observers. And often well-meaning adults think plunking a kid in front of a computer will somehow...automatically...raise a child's IQ.

    I love Joanne Ryder's books--and own most of them, including MY FATHER'S HANDS. I used to read them to my second grade students.

  3. Home And Other Big Fat Lies by Jill Wolfson is a great book about a tree (and nature) lovin' girl. There's a nature club and everything!

  4. Ooh, ooh, thanks for this, too! You know, I admit, with my head hanging: I got that book from the library (Last Child in the Woods) and returned it, 'cause the whole thing felt overwhelming....how do I say it?.... I want so much for my children to not dwell in only artificial environments, and I just, I dunno, felt overwhelmed and depressed at reading about the lack of nature-involvement in children's lives today (and maybe feeling some guilt that we're not outside more). Anyway, so now this is a good reminder to read it already! Thanks....

  5. Yes, glad to see someone mentioning this. My kids are starting to stay in more. I guess it's age more than anything else. I was ectastic that they (15, 11) went willingly to sit under the cherry blossoms with me. That love of nature is still in them somewhere. But perhaps it's cultural, too (we're in Japan).