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Mother Nature’s Children

“I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are”
(A fourth-grader in San Diego, cited in Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods”)

As a young child, I spent most of my days living and playing outdoors. I lived part-time with my grandparents on a small farm in the Waikato, then a rich agricultural region in the central north island of New Zealand. Days were spent playing in the fields, navigating elephant grass, and no doubt tormenting the fowl and pigs and lambs and calves that I considered my best friends at that time.

I used to sing to the cows as they gathered before the fence to rest in the grass and chew their cud amid the sweet tunes of a little voice that sang “The hills are alive with the sound of music…”.

It was a joyful childhood, enriched by simple experiences within the natural world – climbing trees and rolling down hills, riding my bicycle with my neighbour’s children for hours on end, exploring the nearby forests and creeks. My childhood is the place where the seeds for my environmentalism were planted.

Today, I think with growing sadness of the missing link in many children’s lives. Increasingly, an entire generation grows further apart from direct experience with the natural world. Picking wildflowers, collecting seashells, observing bugs and birds, watching our fellow creatures go about their business undisturbed…These simple things are now replaced with hours in front of the computer screen, mobile phone screen, television screen – a veritable smorgasborg of proliferated media.

As a creative environmentalist whose work interfaces with screen technologies, I’m ever mindful of the opportunity (indeed responsibility) that we have to our young people.

We must actively encourage them to back away from the screen-buffet (at least for a while), to step outside and into the surrounding natural world.

We must strip back some of the cotton wool that has enveloped an entire generation of young people, raised with fear and trepidation of nature, rather than with curiosity, wonder and respect.

As Richard Louv says in his book, “Last Child in the Woods”: “For a whole generation of today’s children the pleasure of a free-range childhood are missing, and their indoor habits contribute to epidemic obesity, attention-deficit disorder, isolation and childhood depression.”

If for no other reason than to improve the well-being of our young people, we need to rethink the ways we seek to shape our children’s lives and the lives of generations yet to come.

We must take an important step: We must fling open the door (literally and metaphorically) to the wonders of the natural world. For it is within nature that a child finds their imagination, their freedom, and a connection with the living earth that feeds a healthy and enriched life.

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