Connecting Children with Nature
Like many adults who are now raising young children, the outdoors represents some of the greatest memories of my childhood. The days of my youth were spent watching bugs go about their daily routine, hatching bird eggs, rehabilitating injured animals and interacting with wildlife all around the rivers, forests and estuaries of central Florida. These experiences touched my heart, shaped my view of the world, and even deepened my spirituality.
Unfortunately, research has shown that over the last three decades our children have increasingly lost their connection with nature. While they are now more aware than ever about the global threats facing our environment such as global warming and destruction of the rain forests, their physical contact and intimacy with the natural world is fading. Our children play outdoors less, for briefer periods and are much more restricted.
According to a study conducted by Sandra Hoffman at the University of Maryland from 1997-2003, there was a 50% decline in the number of children 9-12 years old that spent time in outdoor activities like hiking, walking, fishing, beach play or or other activities that encourage a greater connection with nature.
Today’s society inadvertently teaches our children to avoid direct contact with nature. The lessons are being taught in schools, at home and even by organizations once dedicated to the outdoors. This thinking has been manifested into the legal and regulatory structures of our communities. To justify this we use words like ‘safety’, ‘well being’ and ‘conservation’. Meanwhile, we restrict children from climbing trees and playing in undeveloped outdoor areas.
Sadly, while the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature in very positive ways. Several studies have suggested that exposure of youngsters to nature can be a powerful form of therapy for attention-deficit disorders and other conditions plaguing our youth. Perhaps just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they need contact with nature.
This disconnection from our environment may prove to have longer-term consequences to our planet and the multitude of animals that inhabit it as well. How the young respond to nature, how they view the importance of conservation and how they raise their own children, will shape the future of our planet, and determine the fate of many of creatures currently struggling for survival.
Our mission at Valentine’s Traveling Nature Class is to help children connect with nature through animal interactions. We strive to help children understand that they are part of a large, diverse ecosystem, in which we are mutually dependent on each other for survival. We focus largely on the misunderstood and villainized because if children can appreciate the talents of bugs, the role of snakes, and the importance of spiders, the rest of nature will be that much more important.