2009-12-10 / Community News

Were You the Last Child in the Woods?

Blackberry – juicy fruit or electronic gizmo? Thanks to changes recently made to the Oxford Junior Dictionary for children, a “blackberry” will now be defined as an electronic device or smart phone, rather than the fruit. In fact Oxford University Press has dropped more than 90 common plant and animal names (beaver, heron, otter, acorn, and others) from the dictionary to make room for more modern words, such as blog, MP3 player, voicemail, and broadband. Robert Bateman, world-famous wildlife artist, is horrified by the change. Bateman states, “If you can’t name things, how can you love them? And if you don’t love them, then you’re not going to care a hoot about protecting them or voting for issues that would protect them.”

The dictionary change may reflect a broader, more alarming trend of children losing connection with nature. Termed “nature deficit” by Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, Louv points to research that shows today’s children spend 50 percent less time outdoors when compared to 20 years ago. Instead, children spend an average of 6.5 hours a day “plugged in” to television, computers, and electronic media. During this same period, childhood obesity rates and cases of Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder have increased. Recent studies cited at the Children & Nature network indicate that children who play outside in nature are healthier both physically and mentally, have higher self-esteem, cooperate more with others, are more creative, have higher test scores and do better in school. Those students also feel more connected to nature

and will be tomorrow’s conservation leaders. When was the last time your children or grandchildren spent time outdoors? If you love and respect nature, how did you learn that appreciation? Did you, like many adults, spend your childhood wandering in the woods, climbing trees, catching frogs in the creek, chasing lightning bugs in the backyard, listening to owls hoot in the trees and watching the stars twinkle overhead at night?

Or did you learn to love nature from your parents during hunting trips, or on family vacations, watching bears in Yellowstone or camping in our state parks? Being

outdoors and immersed in

nature is important to our well-being and that of our children. Children who actively explore nature feel the connection and will bring that love for the natural world into their adult years, influencing future decisions about nature, wildlife and the land.

Children are never too young to start learning about nature. Start close to home in your own backyard. Take a walk, look at birds and bugs. Plant flowers for the butterflies and hummingbirds. Go fishing or hunting, paddle a canoe down a creek, or watch bats fly. Hike or bike down a trail. Camp in a state park. Share your knowledge and appreciation with others and help the wonder of nature spread…before it’s too late.

For more information about “nature deficit disorder,” please visit the Children & Nature Network at www.childrenandnature.org. For ideas on exploring nature with children, please check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife website at www.tpwd.state.tx.us.

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