Memory, not known for its reliability, is increasingly tricky as time passes. That being acknowledged, I recall my childhood—many decades ago—spent largely outdoors.
Our neighborhood provided plenty of playmates and our lifestyle gave kids ample free time (no homework in the early grades) so play we did—hopscotch, jacks, charades, various versions of tag, croquet, tennis, and games we made up. We biked, ice-skated and roller-skated (my roller skates clamped onto my shoes), built snow forts, swung, and swam.
And we took hikes, sometimes sending scouts ahead to determine our route and making notes of our observations (leaves still on oak trees in November).
In the summer, we played until dark and—as we gained a bit of maturity—sometimes later. Stargazing was a special treat.
Richard Louv wrote a fascinating book, Last Child in the Woods, about the shift in how children play—since that long-ago time when I was a child and even in the last generation—and how that shift impacts kids and the world we live in.
It’s not only that kids spend less time playing outside, but also that more of their outdoor time is supervised and structured or the child is “containerized” in a stroller or car seat. (Would Louv consider the red wagon I used with my kids a “container”?)
Not surprisingly, kids who spend most of their time indoors have been found to be less active than more outdoorsy kids. Less activity is linked to higher rates of childhood obesity and diabetes.
Louv makes the case that a young life spent mostly indoors leads to what he terms “Nature-Deficit Disorder”. He maintains that there are physical, mental, and spiritual consequences to nature-deficit. He cites evidence that Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD) symptoms are reduced by time spent in a natural setting.
He worries that as people become less familiar with—and therefore distanced from—nature, that interest in preserving natural areas will disappear. I fret when public wooded areas are increasingly groomed as if to keep the woods at a safe distance.
Louv has a good number of ideas for promoting appreciation and preservation of nature, including “greenroofs,” covered with vegetation, and creating animal corridors to join existing parks and preserves. This is an important book and a great read.