At camp, we have long known that magical things happen when children and nature get together. Now there is a growing body of research that supports the importance of a strong connection with the natural world for all of us, and especially for young people. Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, includes research from many sources and this documentation all points in the same direction. "As one scientist puts it, we can now assume that just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, they may very well need contact with nature."
What does contact with nature provide? According to Louv and the research he cites, nature calms children, focuses them, and yet excites their senses. It incites peace and curiosity at the same time. It provides physical and emotional exercise that "is more varied and less time-bound than organized sports." It reduces stress and bolsters children's resilience. Louv further points out, "Children are simply happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied opportunities for experiences in the out-of-doors."
While camp is an excellent place for children to experience a personal connection with the natural world, it is certainly not the only place. Children can experience nature in alleys, backyards, and school grounds. They can find adventure and discovery while playing with peers in a vacant lot or park. Or they can gain a lifelong appreciation for the natural world by spending time with an adult who knows how to point out the animal sign and notice the color of a leaf, and then support the child in making his own discoveries. As Rachel Carson said, "If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder...he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in."
How will you share Children and Nature Month with the young people in your life?