Imagine a boy who has never crunched leaves underfoot as he winds down a forest trail, or a girl who has never seen tadpoles in a brook. Imagine children who have watched Nemo but not seen a living fish flash by in a stream, or have read Charlotte’s Web but never seen a real spider’s intricate filaments. Our imaginations don’t have to stretch very far to envision children cut off from nature. In fact, in this internet-ready, asphalt-covered digital age, wild places available to children are shrinking. Increasingly, the wild kingdom children visit beams out at them from the small and big screens.
Fewer than one in ten children get any environmental information first-hand, from experiences in wild places; most learn about nature from the media or in school, according to a 1992 national survey (Nabhan & Trimble, 1994). Since then, despite growing alarm over global warming and other threats to nature’s diversity, these trends have accelerated. Recently, journalist Richard Louv underscored them in a book with the provocative title: Last Child in the Woods (Louv, 2006).
Why is the nature connection so important for children? After all, a few clicks and a Google search bring all we ever might want to know about exotic and nearby flora and fauna. However, research (Kahn, 1999) documents that direct experiences with wild places are not a luxury or vacation add-on, but a basic human need. The nature connection builds children’s cognitive skills, stretches their imaginations and creativity, and…
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