Growing up, I did a lot of climbing trees, playing with bugs, and crawling through bushes. Granted, I had some wilderness in my backyard, but it seems like kids today are less inclined to, and maybe even afraid of, exploring the out-of-doors. To many, it's "gross," "dirty," or so alien to their sheltered environments that to tromp around in the woods might as well be going on a trip to the moon. What have other people observed about our children's connection to nature. Is it in danger?
As a child I remember growing up and playing outside on the regular. We would run through the apple orchards and play ghost in the graveyard. We did not fear getting down and dirty and sweaty. I could go on, but there was always a sense of adventure even about the little forested land behind my house.
I have seen some children become less adventurous or less inclined to join outdoor activities. I remember teaching in urban areas many parents were from dangerous foreign lands. Many did not let their children play outside for fear of something happening to their child. Many of my students wanted to explore the world around them, but were rarely given the chance. I think the desire to get out there and explore is in full swing, but if parents don't support this desire then the kids are in trouble. It is easier for a parent to know their child is "safe" watching tv, rather than outside playing around. I know my mom lets my two nephews play outside all the time. Scrapes are a regular occurrence and my nephews love being outside and one with nature!
Sometimes I wish my two boys were a little LESS connected to nature ;-) I'm kidding of course but it's always an adventure to empty my kids' pockets before they go through the wash (leaves, rocks, sticks, and once a wolly caterpiller...surprise!).
Seriously, I love when the come in from a "hard day's play" and are filthy and scraped up and exhausted and full of stories about all their adventures. I agree with you that it's a really important part of childhood and contributes a lot to their physical and mental well being.
It can be a challenge living in an urban area to find safe outside play areas. We try to take a few camping trips each summer and spend as much time as possible at playgrounds. What do other parents do to encourage outside time if just running out your back door isn't an option?
There's no doubt about it that there tend to be a lot of captivating choices for kids in-doors these days. Part of our approach to making sure our kids enjoy being outside has been to expose them a wide variety of outdoor activities from a young age - everything from a wide-variety of sports, to the beach and hiking. It feels so important these days to helping your kids avoid the temptations of the couch.
I feel that kids may be nature-phobic. But I don't think in terms of it being gross or dirty. But in fact, they might not have the patience or understanding to go and explore nature when they are so used to technology around them.
I've seen many kids play sports and many of them get dirty and are okay with it. So dirt is not the problem.
I'm inclined to think it is the parents' influence on the kids more than the kids themselves.
I hear parents worry about child predators, cycling/skatboard accidents, snakebites, Lymes and/or Bubonic, allergies, heat exhaustion, fatigue etc... Rather than put a little effort into mitigating these risks with reasonable efforts, it is much easier to let kids 'grow' indoors with marginally educational computer games and television shows. It seems less risky, but deprives the kids of so many learning opportunities, not to mention a healthier life.
In the history of our country and the world in general - years ago most of us lived very connected to the out of doors. Until recently in history, most people worked in some agricultural setting. Our houses had no good heating and no running water - the inside of dwellings wasn't much different from nature on the outside.
But all that's changed and even more so since television and computers. As a child I went outside because there were much less to do inside. There was no daytime children's television and we played outside for something to do. But children now have much to do indoors - they can spend hours watching television or on their computers. And as a consequence, fewer and fewer children feel comfortable in the out of doors.
Our children's connection to nature is definitely in danger. One scholar believes that children now only have 'designed nature experiences' - eg. a trip to a nature center. I've had students tell me "I don't want to get hot" - "I don't want to be cold." They want to live in a temperature controlled environment and never experience any discomfort of any kind! We are not a tough people anymore...
I teach Nature every summer and try to take my students walking in a stream or we roll down a hill. At first many of the children react with "I'll get wet!" or "I'll get dirty!" to which I respond - and then you'll dry off or we'll wash off the dirt. And with that they have a wonderful time - once they get in nature and are assured it's ok, it's really safe, - they Love it.
But overall the same is true of adults - adults as well as children spend more and more time indoors. It's one reason why as a country we're now the fattest people on the planet and 1 out of every 3 adults is obese and increasing numbers of children are overweight. Getting out in nature is healthy.