ALL CHILDREN NEED NATURE, WORLDWIDE: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress

About the Author

Cheryl Charles, Ph.D., is co-founder, President and CEO Emerita of the Children & Nature Network, a member of the Paul F-Brandwein Institute Board of Directors, and a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Commission on Education and Communication.

All children need nature. More people are recognizing that need — and working to restore its experience in children’s lives throughout the world.

Along that line, I have some good news to report. But first, some background on the Children & Nature Network’s (C&NN’s) international role. When Richard Louv and others of us founded the Children & Nature Network in 2006, we knew there was a significant worldwide need to reconnect people with nature—beginning most urgently with children.

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Increasingly, we know that children everywhere, for a host of reasons, are more sedentary, more disproportionately using electronic media more of their time and more than they do much of anything else in waking hours, and have almost no time at all doing anything like being outdoors in nature—whether walking to school, building forts, turning over rocks, making fairy houses, climbing trees.

The evidence is clear, and growing all the time, that most children are spending little time outdoors in nature, much less exploring freely, by their own invention and direction.

We hoped to bring together a worldwide movement to reconnect children and nature, and we have worked to achieve this goal since we founded the Children & Nature Network.

As one example of our international efforts, I participated in the 2008 World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Barcelona. Under the auspices of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, chaired by Keith Wheeler of the United States, I convened and moderated a panel on Nature-Deficit Disorder — with representatives from India, The Netherlands, Hungary, Mexico and the US, to talk about this worldwide phenomenon.

One result: We were able to insert language into a motion passed at the IUCN World Congress in 2008 which spoke to the importance of reconnecting children and nature—for their health and well-being and that of the Earth’s itself.

IUCN’s World Congress is held every four years. I’ve just returned from the World Congress held in Jeju, South Korea in September 2012. I traveled to Jeju with optimism that at least some additional progress would be made in support of the need for a worldwide movement to reconnect children with nature.

We knew we would be launching a new, and significant Research Summary of Children & Nature Worldwide—co-developed by the Children & Nature Network and the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication. We released the Summary in Jeju, with the attendant rationale for its importance. We also knew there would be a CEO Summit on Connecting People with Nature, with CEOs of national parks and protected areas from throughout the world along with CEOs of non-governmental organizations, including the Children & Nature Network.

And there would be a resolution presented for action by Dr. Annelies Henstra and others, building on ours of 2008 that spoke to the importance of connecting children and youth with nature and taking it to a new level—that of a child’s right to nature. Others have argued for recognition of that right, such as Robin Moore, past president of the International Association for the Child’s Right to Play, and Richard Louv. Here was a moment to bring that right into sharper focus, with longer-term implications for the United Nations.

The Research Summary was a given. We had prepared it, and planned for its launch to this worldwide audience. The next two events—the unanimous passing of the Jeju Declaration on Connecting People with Nature and the passing of the motion in support of the child’s right to nature — were accomplishments beyond my hopes, and within our dreams.

Awareness is growing. We receive emails and messages from people throughout the world who resonate with the importance of this issue. News reports about the disconnect and the need to reconnect children with nature appear in countries from India to the United Kingdom, China to Oceania. People from more than 160 nations visit the C&NN web site.

Research continues to support this worldwide view. One of the most compelling studies to help with the world wide perspective is that from Singer and colleagues; a study of children and families from 16 nations. (See Volume 4 of C&NN Summaries of Research.) Bottom line — children in developing and developed nations, from all economic backgrounds, tend to spend most time indoors, very little time outdoors in nature in free exploration, and they wish they were outdoors in nature more. Worldwide.

The societal trend coined by Richard Louv as “nature-deficit disorder” is real and not yet reversed. Shared worries about the consequences of this disconnect among people of all ages around the world are actually, in my view, a hopeful sign. We are glad that so many parents today worry about their children’s lack of time outdoors playing freely in nature. Now we need to translate that worry into easily accessible opportunities for that connection. A real connection. One that is fun, easy, nearby, and every day.

We have a tremendous amount of further work to do — as we know. But let’s take a moment to give some thanks for the incredible momentum that can now be felt from the volcanic island of Jeju, South Korea to every island and every continent on the planet.

More reading:

Addressing Children’s Nature-Deficit Disorder: Bold Actions by Conservation Leaders Worldwide 

Children and Nature Worldwide Summary of Research

The Forgotten Human Right, Richard Louv

A Walk in the Woods: Richard Louv in Orion magazine on the human right to a connection to nature.
This 2009 piece was expanded in his 201 book, The Nature Principle.

Robin Moore on a Child’s Right to Nature


  1. Cheryl, it’s such a joy to be an advocate for the Children & Nature Network, and to help create opportunities and re-awaken the awareness among adults that when we spend time outdoors, we spend time in our most natural environment. It is where we feel most alive. Thank you and Rich for all your continuing efforts.

    Page Lambert
    Connecting People with Nature
    Connecting Writers with Words

  2. Thanks for an encouraging update. It’s so wonderful to know that we are united as a planet in the growing re-cognition that we all, especially children, need the calming effects of nature to balance us and remind us to care for our Earth. Our ancestors seemed to know this importance for our balance, and it’s great to see that we’re turning the tide toward this appreciation again. Greta work : } Thanks so much.

  3. As I work at the grassroots level I am pleased that people around the world are acknowledging this problem. I want all children to be able to experience the natural world on a one-to-one basis.

  4. This is why I am taking 12 students camping this weekend. Both current and former students 4th thru 8th grade kids, great times, camping, exploring and swimming on a beautiful Cali fall weekend. I hope all y’alls weekend is as enjoyable as mine.

  5. TO: Cheryl Charles
    FROM: Georg Ek

    “Alle Menschen weden Brueder, > All humankind are plighted
    Wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.” > Where thy gentle wings abide.

    What a stark and forboding contrast Blaise Pascal envisions –
    ” Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
    as when they do it from religious conviction.”

    Your gentle wings have lifted so many – professionals and
    students alike – to open and embrace humane qualities
    which are within all of us.

    Tragically thoes common qualities that are not a
    unique province to our species alone can be all too easil
    sufficated by arrogance,ignorance,greed and stupidity.

    Especially now when so many “…know the price of everything
    and the value of nothing…” You center through your love
    Concern, Compassion, Charity – and More. You are distinguished
    much richer than just a mentor.

    How much I owe You, and far more importantly are all those whom
    You have enlightened. That goes too for species that your
    dedication has touched, directly by You or through You to those
    whom You taught and influenced.

    How proud and honoured I am that your gentile wings have inspired
    my flight. Thank You, dear Cheryl!

    Here’s wishing You and all personally dear to You
    the Best of Good Health and Much Happiness !!!

    Georg Ek



  1. Monday thought of the week: fun, easy, nearby, and every day | - [...] Cheryl Charles, “All Children Need Nature: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress,” The New Nature Movement/C&NN (September 26,…
  2. Nova atenció internacional per al dret humà oblidat | Inspira – Salut, infancia, medi ambient – Fundacio Roger Torne - [...] (UICN), reunit a Jeju, Corea del Sud, va aprovar una resolució que declara que els nens tenen un dret humà a…

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