Kids & Nature: Turning Around a Worrisome Trend

Many of us who love nature have clear memories of meaningful outdoor experiences as children. At the Save the Redwoods League office, if you ask the staff why they chose careers in conservation, you’ll hear story after story about summers spent exploring in the woods, family trips to national parks, and endless hours  in the open spaces near childhood homes; experiences that seemed normal at the time, but transformative in retrospect. These kinds of experiences enrich our lives and become a part of our identity. Unfortunately, as more and more of us live in cities — and on our electronics — they’re getting harder to come by.

The outdoor experiences we have as kids can help us be happier and healthier for our whole lives. Photo by rocket ship, Flickr Creative Commons.
The outdoor experiences we have as kids can help us be happier and healthier for our whole lives. Photo by rocket ship, Flickr Creative Commons.

Of Americans age 6 and up, less than half participate in outdoor recreation.* Kids age 3 to 12 spend only 1 percent of their time outdoors, and 27 percent of their time watching television.** These numbers are sad, and more than a little scary — not only are today’s young folks the environmental stewards of tomorrow, they’re missing out on outdoors experiences that could make them happier and healthier. The League sees this trend of detachment from nature as one of the primary challenges of our time, and we’re more motivated than ever to reconnect people with natural places. Luckily, we’re in good company!

My fourth grader and his public school class recently went on an outdoor education trip in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. While the trip was built around a curriculum on hydraulic gold mining and California history, the context of sleeping in tents at a California state park and living in the forest as the pioneers did allowed the experience to take deeper root.  The multi-day trip, which the class looks forward to all year, was led by a nonprofit called FIELDGUIDES, and the kids had an immersive outdoors experience that was long enough for them to feel at home in nature and to learn a TON.

FIELDGUIDES also has an outdoor education program in Memorial Park*** in San Mateo County. Yep, that’s the old-growth redwood park to which League members and partners just helped add the 174-acre Loma Mar Redwoods property! Through the FIELDGUIDES program, young students come here and learn all about the redwoods. This is a huge part of why we at the League — and you, our supporters — do what we do. The land we protect can provide inspiring, educational, transformative experiences for kids and adults of all ages.

So, in spite of the worrisome trend of detachment from nature, this is a hopeful story. People like you care enough to turn this trend around, and the answer is simple: let’s get outside, and bring the younger generations with us. Creating the time and opportunities to explore and experience the  outdoors, like on a family trip or a FIELDGUIDES program, will make a world of difference.

For more on connecting people (especially kids) to nature, why it’s important and what the League is doing to help, check out my other blogs:

A Prescription for Parks
Kids in the Redwoods, Part 1
Kids in the Redwoods, Part 2

Let’s keep in touch on Twitter! Follow me at @SamH4Redwoods for news and insights about redwoods and conservation.

*Source: Outdoor Participation Report, The Outdoor Foundation 2013
**Source: Hofferth, S. L., and J. F. Sandberg. “Changes in American Children’s Time, 1981-1997.” In Children at the Millennium: Where Have We Come From, Where Are We Going?, edited by S. L. Hofferth and T. J. Owens. Oxford, England: Elsevier Science, 2001

About the author

President and Chief Enthusiast for the Outdoors (CEO) of Save the Redwoods League, Sam brings more than 25 years of experience in overseeing land conservation programs from the remote wilderness to the inner city.

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