The term “nature deficit” was first used by the author, Richard Louv, in his book Last Child In The Woods. It was a startling work that brought attention to the separation of children from nature that is occurring in our society. There are myriad reasons for this separation; the most obvious, of course, is the age of electronics. We will not, nor should we in my opinion, be able to stop our grandchildren from using their computers, Ipads, smart phones, etc. etc. It is part of their age, as clearly as the telephone and television was for ours. There is, however, a significant difference, and side effects that are troubling. In one generation the lure of the outdoors is in danger of being replaced by electronics.
Recently, I’ve read numerous articles by, and listened to several interviews with psychologists who are concerned with the simple activity of outside play disappearing. The worries range from a loss of imagination, to lack of ability to interact. It is through outdoor play, these experts acknowledge, that children develop an enormous range of abilities, i.e. sharing ideas with playmates, tests of their physical limits, cooperation, coordination, and myriad other attributes. And, they adopt these skills out of the range of adult supervision, which grows their confidence.
In the role of grandparent, most of us are not in a position to decide and set limits on use of electronic devices. We can, however, use the hours, days, weeks – whatever time we have with our grandkids to expose them to the outdoors. I believe that every opportunity to get them outside is important. Ours are babies, yet, but my husband and I have already determined that grandparent time will involve numerous outdoor activities where electronics will be excluded.
It used to be so easy. My kids couldn’t wait to head out into the woods after school, but now the woods, even the backyard, is competing with cyberspace. Nevertheless, we can stay ahead of it. We just need to use the resources available. I’m guessing that in most communities across America, you can find out about outdoor activities in your neighborhood. Pick up a newspaper, our town has a community events paper, or go ahead – use the electronics, check online 🙂 If you have a park, a lake, a beach, or a wildlife refuge near you, take advantage of these outdoor spaces, and watch for activities they may have planned.
I have to acknowledge that in the midst of this electronic age, the number and variety of outdoor activities in my hometown has grown proportionately over the past twenty years. If you do a little research, I’m sure you will find fairs and festivals, athletic events, farmers’ markets. Take the kids with you to the farmers’ market, and help them discover where food comes from. If you are planting a vegetable garden this spring, get your grandchildren involved. They will love it. Even our next door teenagers are getting involved in ours. The earliest memories from my childhood are from pleasant participation in outdoor activities with adults. I’m sure that many of you can say the same.
Of course there was more time for everything in the days when we were growing up, and this is where we can make a difference. Some of us are still working, but even so we do not have the time constraints that are involved in parenting a modern family in today’s world. We can get those kids outside!
Richard Louv and others who study this indoor phenomenon are concerned about the consequences of young children spending the majority of their time inside. This cloistering away from nature, perpetuates an already growing perception in our culture that nature is something “out there” as opposed to the reality that humans are part of nature. The greatest threat that I perceive is the possibility that we could lack a sufficient number of adults, in the coming years, who care about our natural environments, and are willing to save those spaces for generations into the future.
Below I’ve listed a few websites that may help you get those grandkids outside. And remember, the little ones are going to enjoy doing anything with you. The older kids, that’s more of a challenge, but how about just taking a walk (in a natural environment) with your teenager, and letting them talk. They have a lot on their minds.
The Journey North Excellent site! I’m especially attracted to this one, because it involves the web and the outdoors. This is a wildlife migration site, where children make outdoor observations then report them online, and connect with lots of other kids.
Ten Great Backyard Activities Remember freeze tag? It’s still fun!
A Treasure Hunt With GPS Hey, it’s the modern age 🙂 This one could be fun with the “tween” age.
Classic Kids Outdoor Games Great traditional fun.
Best wishes for getting your grandchildren outside and encouraging them to adopt an appreciation for nature.