Scientific research and human intuition alike tell us the same thing. We need Nature as much as Nature needs us. Frequent contact with the natural world is essential to human welfare. And no one needs the great outdoors more than children. Hundreds of articles and blogs and dozens of books have documented the dangers of the increasing disconnect between humans and their planetary life support systems since the 2007 publication of Richard Louv's book “ Last Child In The Woods”.A host of problems ranging from obesity to Attention Deficit Disorder improve when kids get some outdoor time.
We have failed to recognize the vital importance of “aimless” unstructured play in the natural world as part of human development. Scientific studies show that messing around outdoors fosters creativity, problem solving skills, persistence, and a host of other vital life skills. Kids who learn to amuse themselves in mud puddles or ponds are less likely to get fat, too. This heads off a whole host of expensive and debilitating health problems later in life.
But the disconnect between humans and the Great Outdoors is increasing, and there is a growing sense of urgency across the environmental and educational community about the issue. Camping and back country trips in national forests and parks declined 24% last ten years according to Dept. of Interior stats. Hunting and fishing stats show similar declines. Even sailing is increasingly a sport for the aged. Fear is part of the reason according to Louv's book. Fear of poison ivy, capsizing, or evil child snatching adults skulking around the neighborhood, and perhaps the greatest fear of all, fear of lawyers and insurance premiums.
The ever looming possibility of litigation squelches unregulated creative play in favor of organized supervised competitive sports. Some of the results, child development experts say, include increased depression, lesser resilience to stress and greater childhood anxiety. One recent study states that suicides among kids aged from 5 to 14 have doubled over the last 20 years and fifteen million prescriptions for antidepressions were handed out in 2004! http://www.antidepressantsfacts.com/2004-09-22-suicide-rates-doubled-5-14.htm
Clearly it's much safer to risk poison ivy than to leave your kid in front of the TV.
Kids need to go outdoors. Take your kid for a walk, a fishing trip, or a sailing excursion. Go skiing. Find a mud puddle. Do it now! That's why I've started up Beach College.
go fly a kite
The Beach College campus is the shoreline. The student body ranges from age two to anybody who can still get around with good balance on uneven ground. The highly visible dramatic and dynamic land forms and environment of a Great lakes Beach are an ideal classroom for beach scholars. Here they learn skills such as analytical observation, inductive reasoning, and concepts including watershed stewardship and the interconnected nature of land and water. They begin to ask questions, the essential first step to understanding and then solving a problem. As they define and inquire they begin to slowly put the pieces together. And while they see how events on land can impact a lake and those who use it, Beach College is also a great place for old fashioned just plain family fun-Boost your creativity with building sand castles, digging holes, making rock piles, drift wood sculptures, stone skipping and treasure hunting.
Specific topics for advanced scholars include the ice age creation of the Great Lakes, evidence of climate changes and impacts on water levels as seen by varves and till,beach dynamics of erosion accretion, underlying rock types and their impacts on land use and property values of same, drift and pollution ( as illustrated by plastic debris). Younger kids can enjoy hunting for fossils or pretty pebbles or 'water glass'. Beach College has a number of branch campuses. (For more information check Edge Walkers Guide to lake Ontario Beach Combing available at www.chimneybluff.com).
On May 5 (Children's Day in Japan and Korea, Victory Day in Mexico) I will offer Beach College 101 a short introduction to the beach at the end of Brown Road, Wolcott NY. This event is free but donations to the North Wolcott School House building fund will be gratefully received. It's not mandatory to bring a kid with you, but it is encouraged. I will have copies of the Pebble Pickers Guide and my Beach Comber book available for purchase as well for those who wish to visit other branch campuses of Beach College