Reconnecting Children with Nature
In today’s technologically driven world, children are spending more and more of their time in front of screens and less time in nature. Children’s pastimes are spent more with video games, TV, laptops, iPads, iPhones, etc. This means less time kicking the ball, running around, climbing trees, and less time spent in what many consider a quintessential childhood experience.
“We’ve gradually allowed exploratory experiences outdoors to be traded for indoor, largely sedentary experiences that depend on learning tools imagined and manufactured by humans.” Evan McGown, author of Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.
The term Nature Deficit Disorder, coined by Richard Louv (author of The Last Child in the Woods), describes the physical and mental consequences of a lack of exposure to nature, particularly in developing children. These consequences include obesity, anxiety, depression, ADD, and ADHD, among other mental and physical disorders. Exposure to and the understanding of nature is vital to a child’s developing mind. Nature is a source of primary learning, and there are many skills and character building attributes that one acquires through exposure to the outdoors.
Children learn both self-reliance and teamwork, stillness and a sense of adventure, self-awareness and compassion from unstructured play in nature. It bolsters their imagination, confidence, resourcefulness, sense of scale, mental and physical strength, and respect for the world around them.
These are not skills that children typically learn hunched over on a couch, staring into a screen. Yet it is these attributes that create well-rounded, happy people.
The American Academy of Pediatrics states that, “Play, especially free play, is essential to development, as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Yet free play hardly exists in a child’s day to day life. Nature is the best place to allow a child to play freely, and unstructured in a way that inspires their imagination and growth.
But what if you’re unmotivated, scared or just unaware of being outside? This is the reality for many children nowadays. Going outside can be foreign, uncomfortable, and scary. It’s not air conditioned and there are too many bugs. They need strong role models to push them to turn off the screen and go outside. It is best to expose children to the great outdoors early and often. But if it’s too late for you to do this, then consider other options. First, be excited yourself. Plan family trips. Go for walks. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose backpacking expedition; any outside time is valuable. Let your kids bring their friends, so that they can run off with them and have fun.
Encourage them to explore and to have unstructured play. Try to relax and let them explore and be rambunctious.
Consider changing your routines. Could you do what you’re already doing outside? Homework, dinner, reading, relaxation: all of these things can be done comfortably outside in decent weather. Start small. Incorporating nature into your daily life requires a fundamental switch in how you prioritize your time.
“You should sit outside for 20 minutes a day… unless you’re busy, then you should sit for an hour.” – Zen Proverb
Many children, and their parents, teachers, family members and other adult figures, no longer know how to delegate and spend time in nature. It is essential to prioritize time outside every day. It’s as if it is wired in our brains that we do not have time for nature in our routines. In reality, you probably have more time than you think. If you have time to watch Netflix for an hour, then you have time to go for a walk through the local woods. You don’t have to sign your child up for a wilderness summer camp or Scouts if you’re not ready for these commitments. There are plenty of local, more convenient options.
There is no shortage of activities to do and places to go outside. There are many programs, activities, places and things to do with your children outside in Cincinnati, as well as within a several hour radius of the area. Southwest Ohio is rich in parks and green spaces, as well as miles upon miles of rivers and lakes to explore. Go somewhere new, find places you love to return to over and over again.
Places to Go:
The Cincinnati Nature Center in Milford is a great place to start. 1,025 acres of Eastern deciduous forests with fields, streams and ponds in Rowe woods is an excellent place to hike and spend the day with family. They also have events, a playscape, and a Nature Preschool. The CNC Nature Preschool is for children ages 3-5 years old, where “direct experience in nature is the foundation for our curriculum that is based on Early Learning Content Standards and developmentally appropriate practices.” For more information and rates, visit cincynature.org.
There are many great parks around Cincinnati as well, and to find an unexplored park near you, visit cincinnatiparks.com.
The Little Miami River is a great, calm river to explore with children. There are many liveries in the area which rent out canoes and kayaks as well as providing shuttle services. Check out Mariemont Livery, Loveland Canoe and Kayak, Scenic River Canoe, Morgan’s Canoe or many others for information and rates.
For longer trips, check out Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio, Red River Gorge in Kentucky, Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee/North Carolina, sections of the Appalachian Trail, and countless other options just a short drive away. If you ever need help with trip dreaming and planning, visit the shop and any of us would be more than willing to help you out.
For more information on local trails, check out the book 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Cincinnati, by Tamara York, which we always have in stock in the shop.
Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv is the inspiration for this blog and is a great book for understanding the fundamentals and importance of nature to a child’s development.
Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature by Jon Young, Ellen Haas and Evan McGown is an excellent resource which features specific nature activities and games to inspire connection with nature through free play and sense-oriented activities. Richard Louv said, “this is good medicine for nature-deficit disorder. Coyote’s Guide should become an essential resource for anyone who wants to revive their sense of kinship with nature but needs some help.”
The Best Tent Camping in Ohio by Robert Loewndick and The Best Tent Camping in Kentucky by Johhny Molloy have many good examples of good tent camping for the whole family.
There are several comprehensive outdoor guides for the Cincinnati Area. Check out Green Umbrella, a National Sustainability Alliance that seeks to organize events in one comprehensive place. They promote many outdoor events that are fun for the whole family. For more information, visit greenumbrella.org.
Meet Me Outdoors is a place to find year-round outdoor recreation and nature activities in the tri-state area. They publish an annual magazine which features local activities including places to hike, fish, swim, paddle and backpack. We also always have this in stock (it’s free) at the shop! Meetmeoutdoors.com.
Ohio Leave No Child Inside, ohiolnci.org, is a movement dedicated to getting children outdoors every day.
For a list of local day camps for children, visit cincinnatifamilymagazine.com/family-fun/summer-camp-2015-preview for a list of summer camp opportunities created this year by Sherry Hang.
Resource Link List:
These resources are just the start. They are meant more to inspire and help start you upon a connection with nature and outdoor play. There are many more opportunities left unlisted, places to explore and things to do out there. It’s time to turn off the screens, step outside and explore!
“We don’t intend to simply provide more ‘recipes’ for nature connection – instead we want to help you learn how to cook.” – Evan McGown, from Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature.
Eli “Shinbone” Staggs as a youngin’ with his father.