Camping offers the chance to extend time spent outdoors.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
Have we made any progress?
It’s been almost a decade since author Richard Louv penned “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” The book is about how children don’t go outdoors to play and explore like they once did.
That’s had consequences, Louv wrote. Childhood obesity is on the rise, as are things like childhood depression and attention disorders.
The book is a call to action, urging people to reconnect with nature.
I got to thinking about that recently because of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Campout. It’s an annual event – this year’s is set for June 24-25 – meant to get families to get outside.
It’s a cool idea and one that, if enough people “pledge”: to be involved, can make a difference, too. Details are here.
There’s been a real emphasis on such things since Last Child came out.
But has any of that worked? Have we made any progress helping our children?
I asked Louv for his opinion.
We’ve come a long way, but there are miles and miles to go.
Family nature clubs are springing up, he said, while government agencies, schools, businesses and civic organizations are all looking for ways to get kids outside. But the barriers between people and nature remain challenging.
The pace at which they’re growing is accelerating, too, courtesy of technology, he added.
“In and of itself, technology is not the enemy, but the lack of balance in our schools and lives, I believe, can be lethal,” Louv said.
It will take strong leadership to overcome that, he said.
“We’re at a crucial point in what I call the new nature movement. Awareness has grown, but we need to move more quickly into an action mode, both at the family and the community level.”
Another book he wrote, “Vitamin N,” contains 500 ideas for getting kids involved in the outdoors. Yet another, in the words right now, is intended to build on that further.
Louv said there’s much research to be done to figure out just what kinds of programs – organized versus unorganized nature play, for example – work best to get kids active in the outdoors. That’s beginning to happen, he noted.
But he believes families will surely play a big role.
“Every family wants comfort and safety. But as parents, we also want to raise courageous, resilient children and young adults — with a little help from nature,” Louv said.
“One reaction to the fear in our society is to shut down; another is to turn the fear on its head, with the goal of building resilience.”
How to do that?
He pointed to a University of Texas at Austin study that found most broken bones related to tree climbing occur because the child doesn’t have the strength to hold on to a limb. The author of that study, Joe Frost, recommends that parents work with their children to develop upper-body strength.
“In other words, don’t tear down the tree, build up the child,” Louv said.
That will require new ways of thinking, he admitted.
“Realistically, parents need new ways to connect to nature. Some families and areas are able to continue the outdoor traditions and experiences of decades past. Others are connecting to nature in different and sometimes new ways. If we want our children or grandchildren to experience nature, we’ll need to be more proactive than parents of past generations,” Louv said.
He suggests being a “hummingbird parent.”
That, as he describes it, means to let children explore and problem solve in nature, and only swoop in when safety is an issue.
Children, under those conditions, aren’t as free and on their own as their parents and grandparents were outdoors, he said. But letting children get their hands wet and feet muddy can still happen.,
And it still has the same value as ever..
“I’d emphasize that outdoor play of any sort is good, including outdoor sports. But the quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience with nature is,” Louv said.
Interested in getting kids involved in the outdoors via camping?
Here are some resources:
- The National Wildlife Federation has camping tips, checklists on what to bring, ideas for games and recipes. See that here.
- Parents offers 19 tips on camping with kids. See that by clicking here.
- Coleman, the gear company, offers camping checklists here. it also has tent camping tips here.
- As for where to camp, you can pitch a tent in the back yard. If you’d prefer a campground, though, check out state park campground by clicking here. Find details on private campgrounds across Pennsylvania are here.