Richard Louv at the Lensic Feb. 21

 

Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

A love of nature can at times reveal a love of the wild—of places that are unkempt, untamed. There is something so amazing and enthralling to see a waterfall, the power of which is mesmerizing. Or to ponder the thick underbrush just off the trail, a tangle of branches, flowers and plants rustling with little scurrying sounds of unseen creatures. Looking at a sunset over land that is free of the manmade and listening to the nightfall sounds taps into a human heart. It beats faster as adrenaline circulates and the fringes of the wild move closer.

Nature is about the untamed. So much of modern life is in the tamed, the orderly, the controlled, the manmade machine, the efficient. Something about the notion of efficiency has so completely permeated Western culture. Humans are not efficient. Machines can be efficient. Using technology can feel efficient.

Raising children is not efficient. It is, in fact, downright messy, no matter how much technology one employs in the process. If one wants to teach a child to do something, the task will take twice as long and will most likely include a great deal of mess-making,

Childhood is messy. It is the frontier of wildness. Or it once was.

On the surface, the world looks like a child-friendly place. There are kids’ menus that can be colored with crayons provided by restaurants. There are organized sports of every type and for every age of child. There are play structures in most parks in cities across the country. Kid-sized anything can be found at major department stores. REI has kid-sized outdoor gear that is just like the grown-up kind and just as pricey. Children are the target audience for TV, movies, books, games, computers, even food, and the list goes on and on.

But where is the child in all this? When is a child most happy? Let a kid go outside to run wild with a pack of other kids, and one finds an exhausted, smiling child who doesn’t want to come inside when playtime is done.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, is worried that kids aren’t getting outside enough to play, explore, touch, smell and generally get dirty in the environment. And that this lack of outdoor connection and playing is impacting the future of the planet.

The Santa Fe Waldorf School is sponsoring an event on Sunday, Feb. 21, at 7p.m., at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, where Louv will be discussing this issue, which he refers to as Nature-Deficit Disorder.

So where are kids right now? Starting as babies, they are contained. In chapter 3 of Last Child in the Woods, Louv discusses the work of Jane Clark, a University of Maryland professor of kinesiology (study of human movement):
“…’containerized kids’…spend more and more time in car seats, highchairs…When small children do go outside, they’re often placed in containers—strollers—and pushed by walking or jogging parents.”

This containment is done for safety and is widespread beyond the borders of the United States, flowing even into rural European landscapes. But this containment is taking the wildness out of childhood. On the surface, the efficiency factor looks like parents are keeping their children safe. Hooray for efficiency; but, really, in the long run, the situation is dire. Who will become the future stewards of the planet if there is no connection to it?

Chapter 3 also examines the criminalization of activities that were once parts of childhood, without question. In the name of safety, orderliness and manmade aesthetics, childhood has been conquered. Fort-building, dam-making, kite-flying and even making a tree house in one’s own private backyard can be illegal. So, where have the children gone? They have migrated to the last domain offered: indoors, where they are plugged in and gamed out in a virtual world.

Louv, through his writing, has started a movement: “No Child Left Inside.” Many studies are supporting the notion that childhood needs the wildness of the outdoors; that is, exploration in the natural landscapes that actually involve getting dirty, climbing trees, possibly picking a few flowers and catching some lizards.

The research coming out now supports this in many ways. The New York Times and National Public Radio (NPR) have recently featured articles about the new—but really old—forest classrooms and kindergartens that support educational opportunities for early-childhood students to encounter the natural world in ways that create lasting connections to the Earth. Louv has reviewed many studies, which readers can find in his note section for each chapter, that highlight how important time in nature is to human health, psychology and development.

If you love nature, ask yourself, “Why?” If you feel good when you go for a walk, ask yourself, “How come?” If you think taking care of the planet is an important endeavor, then consider that, most likely, you can recall experiences in childhood where a bit of the wild side crept into your soul. Getting kids back outside exploring and playing, as Louv notes, is essential for the health of the Earth. He says, “How young people respond to nature, how they raise their own children, will shape the configurations and conditions of our cities, homes—our daily lives.”

Growing up shouldn’t be a drive-by viewing of the world—look, but don’t touch. Instead, “No Child Left Inside” needs to become the new mantra of the sustainable environmental movement that keeps our untamed human spirits longing for and protecting wild spaces.

Maureen Eich VanWalleghan is a filmmaker and writer living in Santa Fe. Her work can be found on the Santa Fe Waldorf School blog and on the Motherhood Later Than Sooner blog.

 

 

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