As I was out on the trail the other day for work, I ran into a mom and her son looking at a tree. I noticed she had one of the county’s “Nature Detectives” guides in her hand, and stopped to talk with them for a bit. It was a beautiful day, and they were enjoying the scavenger hunt looking at trees, flowers, and signs of wildlife. It was great to see them bonding over the activity and the fun of being outdoors, which seems to be an increasingly rare thing these days. It seems with the advent of technology, iPads, computers, that it is increasingly hard to get kids outdoors these days. What will be the ramifications of this down the line and at what cost?
I’ll be the first to admit that I appreciate all that technology has given us. I’m writing this story on my laptop, and carry my iPhone around with me almost everywhere. But I also realize too much time inside stifles my creativity and contributes to depression. We live in a place where it is easy to access nature and the outdoors — the forest and mountains are right outside my door, and trails to walk are literally right down the road. It can be challenging after working all day or all week, to urge myself to get outside, to go for a hike or a bike ride. But whenever I do, I feel all the better for it. Whenever I’m having a bad day, if I can just go take a walk in the forest, I feel uplifted and more hopeful about the day. I’ve also found when I am suffering from writer’s block, that getting outside releases that block and gives me new ideas. Whatever the season, skiing in winter, hiking in summer — doing something outside renews my spirit.
Richard Louv wrote about children’s losing touch with nature due to technology in his book, Last Child in the Woods. He coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder — explaining that children who are spending less time in nature are growing up with a host of behavioral and physical problems, including depression, mood disorders, and even obesity. I grew up in a time where as a child, I spent time outdoors for large periods almost every day. We had a clan of kids in my neighborhood who got together after school every day to play kickball, build forts, make mud pies, play Ghost in the Graveyard. I didn’t come home until my mother stood outside on our porch, yelling for me just before dinner. Today, its seems fear has gripped parents about letting their kids out of sight for just a few minutes, and kids rarely engage in these types of activities.
That’s why parks play such an increasingly important role in encouraging families and kids to connect with nature. Almost every national park offers a Junior Ranger program for kids, that offers experiences and activities for kids to learn more about nature, wildlife and the park. At Rocky Mountain National Park, they offer Junior Ranger programs for kids 4 times a day during the summer, engaging kids and their families through interactive kid-oriented programs. On the local level at Boulder County Parks and Open Space, they offer a Nature Detectives guide at nine different parks — inspiring kids to learn more about the different parks, and incenting them with the opportunity to earn prizes as they finish their guides.
Today’s children are the future stewards for parks and wilderness in the U.S. If they don’t connect with nature, they don’t realize the importance of preserving these lands and what a benefit it is for our physical and mental selves. And they miss out on the magic and fun of discovering all that nature has to offer us — seeing a hummingbird pollinate a flower, watching a bear eat berries off a bush, feeling the spray of water as a river tumbles down a mountainside. Richard Louv reminds us of why these things are so important:
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth, and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist. Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”