Nurturing the Next Generation of Nature Lovers

Recently, a friend of mine took her daughters for a visit to their pediatrician. She was shocked when her doctor told her on average a child in the Los Angeles area only spends 15 minutes outside each day.
I have always been interested about how children forge a relationship with the world outside. What happens when the door from inside to outside is opened? Is the child given the time and space to build a relationship?
Since becoming a parent, my interest has become even more acute. I discovered Richard Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder where he takes a critical look at children’s shrinking access to unstructured time outdoors. Louv asks who will protect the world outside if they have no connection to it? He argues that the next generation of nature lovers will only grow when they have the space and time to be outside and fall in love.
I think it merits more than 15 minutes a day, but that’s a start.

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  1. I have been very disheartened to find my grandchildren have little time outdoors on their own. Granted they play soccer, and do fun runs with their parents but just to be outside – doesn’t happen.

    We raised the boys on just under 10 acres, mainly woods and wetlands, and they were outside all the time. They collected rocks, tadpoles, snake skins, bones, owl pellets, a complete cat skeleton, leaves, nuts, seedpods,plants, tree saplings, etc. They had their own gardens, dug holes, built tree houses and platforms from which they watched deer wander thru the woods. We let them lay on the driveway to watch shooting stars and learn the constellations. They took photos of spider webs, learned all the birds and their calls that visited our place, collected the nests in the fall, knew the trees by bark and leaves, picked wild elderberries, grapes and raspberries. they knew all the wildflowers including ladies’ tresses that graced our place. And lots more adventures and learning experiences that I can’t remember. All we provided was time, patience, magnifying glasses, boxes and jars, butterfly nets and a lot of reference books. Until they moved away they spent at least a part of every day and most of the weekend outdoors.

    So why are the grandkids’ bereft of this? It’s not what everybody else does with their kids and my daughters-in-law don’t see the need. It is more important to them to structure the kids’ days. I find it very sad that I rarely see kids outside just doing their own thing.

  2. I’m not a parent, but this seems wrong. growing up as a child in an urban environment, still spent more than 15 minutes a day outdoors playing! We already see that there is an upcoming generation separated from nature – they see a camping trip along the same lines as going to disney world. and expect to have their WiFi links and cell phones working. What is distressing is the lack of exercise, use of imagination, and lack of social interaction that children get when running around outside together! All they will be prepared for is a world of cubbyholes and on line social interaction. Of course, that will probably also lead to eventual population declines . . .

  3. I agree with you 100%. That’s why I think community gardens and parks are so important for high-density urban areas; otherwise these kids would get NO exposure.

    By the way, those look like happy feet.

  4. We are lucky enough to have left LA prior to having kids so I can only imagine how difficult it can be to help kids forge a relationship with the outside while in the city. A much more concerted effort has be taken to encourage experiences with the outdoors, much the same way we would want our children to appreciate good food, music, books.

    The ability to rub toes in mud, look at stuff on the sidewalk on the way to school, to wade through a stream and try to catch minnows–I sincerely do think that all of this is crucial to helping our kids grow into themselves and to grow an appreciation and love for their surroundings. Cut off of food production, flora and fauna, the rhythms of growth, death, rebirth, I don’t see how anyone can hope to help sustain the world we live in with loving hands and hearts.

    The “fifteen minutes a day in nature” reminds me of the “read 20 minutes a day to your child” campaign. As if it is a moment to be checked off the to-do list, like cleaning the bathroom or doing laundry. Nature, like reading, should be an integral part of the whole day, not just for kids but for all of us.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Thanks for your comments.

    Bellen, I think I want to summer camp in your 10 acres. It sounds magical. I hope your grandkids get the opportunity to experience it the way your boys did even for a week here and there. I love the tools in your sons childhood tool box: magnifying glasses, boxes and jars, patience.

    I think even in urban environments, there is an opportunity to connect with nature. That is one of the many reasons why I love birds. They travel so far. Their lives tell an extraordinary journey. Their plumage bears the marks of the season and they are everywhere. To enjoy a bird, all you need to do is open your eyes and listen. You can be at a bus stop, pulled out of a car seat as you are shuttled through a Walmart parking lot or on your back under a tree gazing up at the branches.

    It is imperative as caregivers to children that they have the space and time to experience the world beyond walls. Sometimes all it takes is a blanket set up outside where ever. It doesn’t have to be a curated experience. The door just needs to be opened.

    I long to hear the words of my youth, “Be back home when the street lights turn on” uttered more frequently to the younger people of today.

  6. If anyone here lives in the Inland Empire, I run a grant program that puts in vegetable and climate appropriate gardens in schools k-12. we pay for all the supplies needed to put in the garden from irrigation, to plants, vegetable boxes and D.G. we just had our grant application workshop last saturday. but if there aren’t enough applicants then we can accept more. usually there aren’t enough. We aim to get kids outdoors through water education primarily so we teach kids about our water issues and other things. we also have tours for kids at the Chino Creek Wetlands and Educational park… there is a lot info at under the education tab.

  7. 15 minutes…wow. And yet public schools continue to cut recess time.

    “The door just needs to be opened” is exactly what we do. We have a fenced lot in Pasadena I just let the boys (ages four and almost two) wander in and out most sunny afternoons. We have mini-farm going here and one of my happiest moments of parenting was when my older son requested a snack while we were playing outside. I started to head inside to fix him something to eat when he called me back saying, “You don’t need to go in Mama – we’ve got snacks out here” and proceeded to then pick and eat dozens of blackberries until he was full (and quite purple).

    Despite LA’s dismal park space per capita numbers we do have some fabulous parks (if you can get to them). Debs park is one of our favorites.

  8. Amen! I was thrilled to take my son to my childhood summer camp and watch him frolic in the dirt and play with the bugs. When we got home, I almost had to hose him off in the front yard before letting him in! (Same thing my folks said about me when I got home from camp.)

    He’s my gardening helper, so we’re outside a lot–but more time outside is always better.

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