Archives for January 2009

Walk the Walk… Really.

According to Louv and the interdisciplinary field of ecopsychology, being outside has a track record of improving a person’s physical and mental ailments. According to this month’s issue of Fitness Magazine, the supplement provided by the outdoors that allows for improvements in health is the vitamin D gained from simply being in the sunlight. The article, “Super Vitamin to the Rescue,” by Richard Laliberte, reveals that “… 5 to 30 minutes of unprotected exposure between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week will give you most of the D you need.”

And if you need more provocation to get out, Popular Mechanics has an amazing article on how vitamin D can help treat osteoporosis. So, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but going out into the sun today will help you get out of bed tomorrow morning.

The Great American Backyard Campout: June 27, 2009

The National Wildlife Federation deserves some major kudos here. I’ve thought about letting my kids camp in our backyard many times, but I quickly came to the realization that it’d be almost cruel considering the mosquito population here in Houston. This campout idea involves you, and as many neighbors as you can recruit, camping in your backyard.

It’s not just a “Hey, go camping in your backyard” thing, though. Everyone that signs up across the nation will be participating on the same night. Sign up and either find a host campsite in your neighborhood or host a group in your area yourself. The National Wildlife Federation has provoked people all over to participate in this event in June in order to gain a larger feeling of solidarity in the sense that we need a little more nature in our lives.

Leave No Child Inside, another Louv-inspired organization, offers a great ideas & how-to on raising monarch butterflies. At first, I was thinking, “Yeah, okay… this is impossible,” but it’s actually very simple. The caterpillar does all the work, but it’s an amazing natural occurrence that you can witness with – and explain to – your children.

Just Open the Door

Take a walk and collect leaves and flowers. When you get home (no rush, really) get out a nature guide or encyclopedia and try to identify the plants or trees from which you pulled your samples.

No awesome nature book? Google it. However, if you go the Google route, try to be as specific as possible regarding your region and what kind of plant you’re trying to identify. Otherwise, you’ll end up searching for “tree” or something just as generic and not-at-all helpful. If you want to go a few steps further, get an empty hard bound book or a composition notebook and use it as a field guide.

Take your camera, take notes, take your kids and take your time. You can even start a field guide blog if you prefer to keep your photos digital. Once you and your kids are familiar with the nature around, try a family scavenger hunt. Pick a list of items you know you have identified (maybe with a small picture) and see which team can return home with the correct collection.

Turn off the TV. Turn off the lights. Look up.

A clear night is the perfect chance to get your kids out. Our telescope is a member of the family, but the light pollution here in Houston is overwhelming. It causes quite the glare, but the kids thoroughly enjoy looking at the craters of the moon.

Star charts are a great tool whether or not you have a telescope.

Even on a rainy day, you can explore nature. We recently got a microscope for the kids, and its possibilities are endless. You can collect pretty much any small item (hair, seed, fingernail, leaf, etc.) and reveal the intricacies of even the smallest element of the outdoor world around them.

That rainy day also provides an opportunity for you to research the elements in the atmosphere causing the rain. That way, when they get back outside, they’ll be able to look up and distinguish clouds, wind direction and how likely precipitation will be for the day.

I’m in love with meteorology, and I don’t think I could ever learn enough.

Get your kids curious. Make them ask questions; that’s a telltale sign of their gears turning. As long as they’re turning, it’s hard for them to get rusty. Think of your encouragement and involvement as WD-40 for their inquisitiveness.

“Never lay across the tracks of your kids’ train of thought.” -my dad

If you know of any other fantastic events like the Great American Backyard Campout, please share them! Please sign up: it would be quite the joy to be able to discuss our experiences together after the event in June.

The Need for Nature

Richard Louv has set up a pretty broad picture for us so far. The history of how we, as Americans, proceed through our conquests and frontiers reveals not a mere trend, but rather a distinct characteristic.

Now that we’ve progressed to the third frontier, it is the essence of our nature to move on. If I’m not mistaken, in the whole of this book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, Louv is asking us: in which direction, for the sake of our children, do we choose to continue?

This question is rooted in a deep concern for the current status quo.

Based on his life’s passion and writings, Louv consolidated his knowledge and developed the term nature-deficit disorder. He’s very quick to explain that it is not an official medical diagnosis, nor is it meant to front itself as such. He does, however make a strong case for the term:

“Nature-deficit disorder describes the human cost of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

He continues; his mission is to rid ourselves of this unnecessary malady:

“By weighing the consequences of this disorder, we can also become more aware of how blessed our children can be – biologically, cognitively, and spiritually – through positive physical connection to nature.”

Through his research, Louv came across the hypothesis of Edward O. Wilson: biophilia. This term concentrates on biological shifts based on “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”

Though not all biologists are strong advocates of this theory, the field of ecopsychology has contributed data highlighting the positive response in humans after being exposed to many different aspects of nature.

For instance, one study shows “the mortality rate of heart-disease patients with pets was found to be one-third that of patients without pets.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Louv shares the statistic showing that the steepest increase in antidepressant prescriptions by demographic was a boost… in preschoolers. Yes, preschoolers.

I am not a doctor, nor an expert of anything for that matter. But, perpetual growth and change is the nature of all preschool-aged children. Mentally and physically, through circadian rhythms and coordination skill, logic and imagination, size and weight, children in this demographic are supposed to reveal all emotion and breadth of personality; how else would they know it exists?

How else would they learn to distinguish between right and wrong, appropriate or inappropriate, and tell happy from sad? To me, the diagnosis of depression in a child this young is a stretch.

Just the other day, my four-yr-old daughter became very emotional very spontaneously. Call me crazy, but I didn’t call the doctor. I took her on a long, long walk and let her act monkey-esque at a park for the afternoon. I don’t know why the sudden changes in either direction, unusually sad or immediately content, but it looked to me as if taking the little lady out into the fresh air and sunshine fixed whatever was ailing her that morning.

Louv says:

“You’ll likely never see a slick commercial for nature therapy, as you do for the latest antidepressant pharmaceuticals. But parents, educators, and health workers need to know what a useful antidote to emotional and physical stress nature can be. Especially now.”

Have you personally witnessed your child(ren) change demeanor after a change in their indoor/outdoor status?What do you think of Louv’s assessment regarding the current state of our kids’ culture?

Labor of Louv

sunflowers | a Simple Autumn |

For me to even assume that a post of mine will inspire readers, I feel it is only right to first expose one of the main inspirations for this entire blog endeavor: Richard Louv.

Mr. Louv is the chairman of the Children & Nature Network, an organization created to provoke more of a connection between our children and the outdoors.  I have felt many of the sentiments of the program, but not until discovering the C&NN have I been able to fully understand what is wrong with our current educational approaches.

Louv’s most popular work, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, has provoked a widespread movement – aside from co-founding the C&NN – that includes the creation of the Leave No Child Inside initiative and the Nature Child Reunion.  Both have been created in the wake of Louv’s book.

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