Nature - Can't Live With It, Can't Live Without It

By Janet Milkman
August 6, 2009


E.O. Wilson, one of ERTHNXT's founding philosophers and current Advisory Board member, coined the term "biophilia" to describe humans' deep connection to nature (my words - he calls it our "innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes.") Ironically, I am most reminded of how potent biophilia is when I'm most disconnected from nature - say, in a windowless conference room or a dark school corridor. I suppose these environments are thought to help focus us on the task at hand by not allowing distractions from the outside world.

But I believe the opposite is true - being disconnected from sunlight, greenery, the sky, can be almost painful. And yet adults and more importantly, kids, are increasingly disconnected from nature.

A few statistics from the Children & Nature Network bear this out:

1. Children today spend less time playing outdoors than any previous generation;

2. Children spend more of their diminishing free time in structured activities: children's discretionary time (i.e., time not spent in school, child care, etc.) declined 12% (7.4 hours a week) from 1981 to 1997 and an additional 4% (2 hours) from 1997 to 2002/3;

3. Families have less leisure time and are spending more of it indoors. Since 1988, per capita visits to U.S. national parks have declined by about 20%;

4. Americans spend 170 minutes a day watching TV and movies, 9 times as much as they do on physical activities Children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 6.5 hours a day with electronic media;

5. A British study found that children can identify 25 percent more Pokemon characters than wildlife species at eight years old.

Research from the Red Rock Institute finds that kids spend on average only a half hour per week playing outdoors, compared to 45 hours per week with electronic media.

Why is this happening? Well, there are many reasons, according to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods. We work more hours than we used to, children have more homework and more structured activities, such as organized sports, than in the past. We live in a more auto-oriented landscape, where the spontaneous interaction with the outdoors from a walk to work or school or the store is much less common. And parents are more afraid of letting their children explore - we fear crime, cars, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

There is a growing understanding of this disconnection and its potentially devastating impacts on children's health and development, not to mention planetary health! The good news is that there is also a growing movement to connect kids with nature. My organization, ERTHNXT, is part of this movement. In my new blog, I'll pursue these issues and provide fun, easy ideas for connecting kids with nature.

I'll also explore the growing body of research that evaluates the impacts of time in nature on children's behavioral, physical, intellectual and emotional development. But in the meantime, as I watch my 2-year old niece run down the grassy hill with her arms wide open and her head thrown back in laughter and unfettered joy at the freedom of it all, I understand what E.O. Wilson was getting at.

Learn more now, by clicking here...

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