After “Last Child in the Woods” was published in 2005, a handful of like-minded individuals came together to form the Children & Nature Network. Our mission: to help build a movement to reconnect children, their families and their communities to nature—for human health and well-being, cognitive development, stronger community — and for the good of the planet.
For years, many educators and others had worked hard to connect children to nature. They continue to do that. But we believed a new network could help turn a cause into a movement by building a powerful source of shared information and resources; by promoting the good work of existing programs; by connecting organizations, campaigns, educators, healthcare professionals, business people, agencies, families and young people; and by bringing new, diverse and sometimes unlikely allies to the table.
C&NN keeps track of the movement, offers a single place on the Web to learn about the growing body of research, and most important, provides a way for people, especially at the grassroots, to network – to learn from each other both online and in person at our national leadership gatherings. The site contains links to news, human interest articles, analysis, and the best collection of publicly-available abstracts of studies on children and nature, from England, Australia, Scandinavia and elsewhere.
The movement has a long way to go, but we do see progress. In the best sense, this is a leaderless movement, and a well-connected one. As of today, nearly a hundred cities, states, provinces and regions in North America have created their own campaigns to connect children and families to nature.
In 2012, the movement is reaching inner-cities, suburbs and rural areas across the globe. Many pediatricians and other health care professionals are “prescribing” time in nature to their young patients. We’re seeing a growing popularity for nature-based education. We’ve worked to honor what we call Natural Teachers — the English teachers, the art teachers, the biology teachers who insist on getting their students outdoors.
Conservation groups, large and small, have launched major initiatives to connect children to nature. In the U.S., we’re seeing changes in local, state and national policies and increased news coverage of the many health benefits of nature experience. We see tentative change in the entertainment media. We see growing interest in transforming our cities into places rich with nearby nature. We’ve seen thousands of families band together to create family nature clubs.
And young people are stepping forward, often from inner cities, to become what we call Natural Leaders of the movement.
Last year, young Natural Leaders helped organize C&NN’s first month-long Let’s G.O.!(Get Outside) campaign, which inspired and networked more than 500 events in 44 states, getting over 100,000 people outside. Many of the events were service projects restoring natural habitat. C&NN is hoping for an even bigger turnout this spring.
These are just a few signs of progress we’re seeing, but the barriers remain, and some are growing.
Electronic media use by children and youth in the U.S. has increased in the past five years to more than 53 hours per week, up from 44 just five years before. Obesity and other health-related risks continue at epidemic rates among children and youth, as well as adults, here and abroad. Children’s ability to recognize wild species continues to decline, and the first wave of denatured young people is now in their early parenting years. Rapid urbanization continues around the world; in 2008, for the first time in history, more human beings live in cities than in the countryside — a trend that quickens our sense of urgency.
Challenges exist within the movement, too, including building greater cultural, economic and professional diversity; developing 21st century tools to reach more adults and young people; helping reimagine our communities and the built environment; and increasing society’s support for people and organizations, old and new, dedicated to this work.
Our goal, working with many other groups, is to create deep cultural change. Some people don’t think that’s possible. We do.
We’d like to thank the foundations and agencies, companies and individuals who support C&NN. And we invite you to join the movement, if you haven’t done so already, and to explore the C&NN web site. Thanks — and Happy New Year!
Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network and author THE NATURE PRINCIPLE and LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS.