Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Leave No Child (Adult) Inside

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, was in town last night. Instead of enjoying the -20 wind chills, I watched him on cable access (lord bless cable access, and the holiday season fireside streaming video that warms me so).

I wouldn't have wasted an hour watching him had I known I could go to Orion Magazine's website and read his presentation--it followed his short essay Leave No Child Inside. You could tell he'd done this a billion times before, commenting on how after 2 years the book hasn't gone away; and after reading up on the internet, he seems eager to move on to other projects yet thankful for what he started.

What I like about Louv is he is HOPEFUL, positive, we can do things better and make more money at it, says that part of our problem is we are paralyzed with doomsday talk, that to create change there must be hope. I read this in another essay on Orion that was concerned with capitalism's ability to squash hope and our spiritual connection to each other and landscapes.

Louv also hates the word "sustainable," and now so do I (I had an inkling I did)--for him, it means "stasis and stagnation." Yup. Why try to hold on to what's left when you can actually create more of it instead? Fun things I learned:

--Only 6% of kids 9-13 play outside on their own during a typical week
--Ansel Adams was kicked out of school as a kid for hyperactivity, which was fixed by his desperate parents taking him on repeated nature trips. Didn't he do something with nature in his photagraphy? (sarcasm)
--Playing outside is statistically proven to increase self esteem, confidence, social skills, creativity, lowers teenage suicide risk and symptoms of ADD, et cetera. DUH.
--Eco phobia is taught at a young age. Basically, we fear nature like we fear strangers.
--Which is why kids don't play outside--parents don't let them. In truth, child abductions and such are holding steady or dropping nationally. Virtual house arrest he calls it. News media is largely to blame, consistently covering the same story over and over to improve ratings and play on fears that something IS up, when it isn't.
--Lincoln, NE is pretty progressive when it comes to getting families outside repeatedly with their Lincoln Safari program (5,000 families projected this year).
--National Park attendance is down 25%.
--There's a 40% reduction in fieldtrips and recess nationally. Some schools post "no running" signs on the playground. That'll help curb childhood obesity.
--Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) is about reclaiming our humanity, too, not just environment. I.e. we suffer emotional and spiritual lack for not playing outside.

And by the way, this isn't all about or for kids. It applies to adults. So go outside and build a fort.

Where did you play as a child? My dad built us a "tree house" once in Oklahoma (we were always at war with the neighbor's kids). But I think my spiritual, romantic, deep space must have been from my first impressions of Minnesota when we moved from Oklahoma--a dark, musty stand of pines and spruce near where we first lived. The ground was soft and squishy, the sunlight hazy, that darkness and stillness the same quiet inward solitude of fear and hope I felt after moving north--the same solitude I carry with me today as a definition of who I am and how I recharge, or find my way again.


Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I so agree! In my community, there is a conservation organization that has started a series of activities entitled "Leave No Child Inside." The sad truth is that my husband & I spend more time outside than the kids. ("I'm hot!" "There's too many bugs!") The little wimps! I keep trying, though.

Benjamin Vogt said...

I keep thinking if and when I may, possibly potentially who knows do I really want to oh my lord panic panic panic, be a father that I'll make my kids go out every day, with or without me. Lead by example, and yet it appears not to work. I used to play outside in the dirt without getting my knees dirty, so bugs and heat can also be thwarted.

Anonymous said...

I usually have to force my son to go on one of "dad's nature things", usually with much bitching and moaning. However, once we are at the destination or in the middle of the acitvity - he is fine with it, and really enjoys it. I grew up in the woods building forts, catching frogs, getting muddy and wet and not coming home until dark. I am sorry that seems to not be norm any longer.

kate said...

It was a given, as kids, that we had a snack and outside we went after school every day. I only remember a few days sitting indoors because it was blizzarding out or way too cold.

We ran around the neighbourhood and played in each others' gardens and in back lanes. That was all we knew ... and then there was endless camping during the summer and hanging out at the swimming pool and riding bicycles.

No wonder I am outside as soon as the weather warms ... my son is an outdoors kid, although now he spends less time outside during the winter. He stopped playing hockey ...

Aunt Debbi/kurts mom said...

They have to go outside. They also need to know where their food comes from.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to quibble with "sustainable" for a moment. You can certainly read it as "static" if you want, but I don't know of any ecosystem that sustains itself that's static. For me, and I hope for others like me, sustainable suggests the dynamism of active systems and the inevitable change of that system. Sustainable means looking deeply into the rhizome, the web, the relationships we form and are formed from. But stagnation? Hm.

And to answer your other question: I loved nothing better than wandering around outdoors. Even when reading (and I did a lot of reading as a kid), I preferred to do it outside. Shade trees were best. You could always take a break and watch, you know, life. Ants, squirrels, birds. Why stay indoors?

Benjamin Vogt said...

Les--sounds like kids, or adults for that matter! Now that I'm older, I very much appreciate getting dirty--it seems terribly natural and right. My parents must be in utter shock.
Kate--I remember going into one girl's house when I was maybe 11 or so, and she pulled me into a bathroom where her parents couldn't see and kissed me on the cheek real quick. She was a year or two older, so it was VERY cool. We, too, always played from house to house--does this still happen? How can little boys get kisses now from "mature" girls?

Benjamin Vogt said...

James--I'll agree with you IF you agree with the idea that those ecosystems should also get some active human rhizome help. I don't mean to imply that nature can't or won't get it done on its own, but that some conversion BACK needs to happen--like restoring prairies and forests--and we can't sit back and wait or hope for those changes to happen on their own. Plus, I feel like "sustainable" seems, to some people like me, something mechanistic, scientific, other. But much verbiage of ecological concern takes on this role, a necessary evil. Our answer to the crises before us can't be dealt with purely, or even mostly, scientific language / answers that alienates us from the spiritual connection we need to have with each other and the world. I am a DEEP ecologist I guess. In writing anyway. Have I gone off topic?

Anonymous said...

This was a good read. I sent my kids out to play. I unplugged the TV. Both are very successful young men. They watched their fair share of Star Wars, collected comic book, sports cards, and GI Joes. All their collections are worth money now. Seems their friends thought they were disposable. Now all those figurines my son so carefully saved---are fetching twice what he paid with his allowance. They had Super Hero childhoods with lots of action and fun. We balanced it with video games too. I wasn't all outdoors or nothing. There is a balance. Great post.