Friday, May 22, 2009

The Importance of the Outdoors in Children's Lives

The Importance of the Outdoors in Children's Lives

Millions of children are only allowed outdoors with close supervision. In many areas, even the backyard or front stoops are viewed as perilous. Many children come home from school and watch television and may learn more about nature from television shows such as "Survivor" or "Gilligan's Island" than from the workings of their own backyard — that marvelous ecosystem teeming with life. They may know more about exotic animals on the Discovery Channel or farm animals on PBS than the snails, squirrels, birds, worms, and bugs that live outside their windows.

Daniel Janzen, the world’s foremost tropical biologist writes: “Here's what nature does for us no matter who we are or where we live...Human animals carry around this big brain, this big device for processing input. Part of our ability to use that device depends on the complex stimuli that challenged it throughout our evolution. Nature — whatever is out there, from a single tree to a whole forest — provides a big wad of the possible information that we can process. If you diminish nature, you diminish the diversity of those stimuli. When we don’t get input from nature, we don’t end up having much sense of smell, hearing, or vision. Television becomes our reality. We can survive on that and do, but it is not nearly as complex…When we diminish nature, we turn off lots of things in our own heads…Over the past 10 or 15 years, I’ve been bothered by the fact that Americans think that they’re getting nature through TV — all those shows that bring the elephants and tigers right into the living rooms. This Musak nature destroys the reality of people’s experience outdoors. When they are actually in nature, it’s disappointing, because the big spectacular stimuli aren’t coming as fast as they do on television...” (Gallagher, W. The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, Actions. NY: Simon and Schuster.1993, p.206).

Whether or not your child learns to love the outdoors boils down to priorities and will. The purpose of life is, after all, to inhale and to live it fully and reach out eagerly without fear for new experiences. Open the back door. Walk through a park. Get out of the car. Our children deserve our effort.

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