Whole Brain Catalog

No Child Left Inside

Unplug your kids and kick them outside!
Photo by AP Wideworld Photos

Photo by AP Wideworld Photos

“Every child,” wrote pioneer botanist Luther Burbank, “should have mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets. And any child who has been deprived of these has been deprived of the best part of education.”

In our education-obsessed culture, elite kids play piano and speak three languages by the age of four, but just about every North American kid is deprived. In one of the greatest retreats ever, children are vanishing from a critical piece of territory: their own backyards.

And there isn’t a kid on the planet who knows what a huckleberry is, other than a character in a Mark Twain book.

For the average kid only spends 30 minutes a day outside, an amount that shrinks yearly. In this brave new world of Facebook and YouTube, Twitter and Google, iPod and Wii, kids are tuned in to technology, and kindergartners start school with 5,000 hours of TV under their belts.

Typical tweens put in a 40-hour week – a virtual full-time job – watching screens: TV, laptop, cell phone, and so on. They can name dozens of corporate logos and celebrities on sight – Lady Gaga! Justin Bieber! The cast from Glee! – but they cannot name three animals that live in their neighborhood, or three plants.

A first grader can sing every lyric of “Bad Romance,” God help us, but has no idea what a chickadee sounds like.

Adults are colluding in this retreat. Our school system has chained kids to their desks, number 2 pencils glued to their hands. If a kid is outside playing sports, it’s not a pickup game in the sandlot but a league organized by overzealous parents carpooling kids endlessly from one game to the next.

And the geographic world they wander is collapsing like a black hole into their laptops; the typical kid today roams a world only one-ninth the size a child of the ‘70s did. I wandered Long Island’s rapidly decreasing pine forests in the ‘60s, biking and hiking unthinkable distances, alone and with friends, with neither a cell phone nor a dime to make a call. Because inside our houses were the adults, and who wanted to be there? Every last child was outside, in the street, in the yard, on the corner, at the 7-Eleven.

But letting kids go into a forest alone today is unthinkable, heretical. Remember that kid who was allowed to take the train in New York alone? “Child abuse!” we screamed at his parents. Even my own kids, raised by me, a naturalist, have never been allowed to go unattended into a forest. I am always there: stranger danger, ticks and West Nile have all taken their toll, even on me.

This radical retreat from the great outdoors, now called “nature-deficit disorder,” a phrase coined by journalist Richard Louv in his groundbreaking book Last Child in the Woods, is the greatest health catastrophe facing Western kids.

Ever.

Asthma rates are climbing. Attention-deficit disorders are through the roof. Obesity rates skyrocket; diabetes, linked to weight, soaring. Kids who watch too much TV don’t physically move, change the working of their brains and even eat more poorly than other children; there is a distinct inverse relationship between TV use and the amount of vegetables in one’s diet. This next generation might not live as long as their parents.

At the same time, numerous studies indicate kids are physically and mentally healthier if they spend time outdoors and in nature. They calm down when surrounded by green, which seems to ameliorate their ADD. And free play outside lets children develop social skills they can’t get from tube-watching (or from playing sports under adult supervision), and their skills are more age-appropriate as well.

Here’s the kicker: Studies indicate that learning through nature-based programs helps kids score higher on standardized tests. Want your kid to go to Harvard? Have her study outdoors.

But change is blowing in the wind. Louv’s book, the first-ever environmental education bestseller, jump-started an international movement that gave birth to a web site, the Children and Nature Network. Places as disparate as nature centers and urban parks are unveiling natural playscapes: areas where kids can linger and climb rocks, play with sticks, push sand and gravel around, get muddy – do lots of delicious nothing. Nature preschools are becoming popular, too, as places where toddlers spend quality time outdoors. Even middle schools are developing nature-based curricula where the bulk of the student’s school day is given to studying the environment to integrate math, language and social studies into the real world.

In the United States, some 1,600 NGOs representing 50 million people have organized into a No Child Left Inside coalition, a spin on the Bush-era name for his education bill, lobbying Obama for statewide environmental literacy plans that include children spending quality time outdoors.

But it’s a long climb, for culture is the very air our children breathe, and culture conspires to convince kids that everything important can be found in that little box. We’ve seduced children indoors.

Now childhood itself is an endangered species. If we are going to save either the environment or our children, we have to take a surprisingly simple but very radical first step.

End the Great Green Retreat. Unplug our kids and kick them outside. To play. And hear chickadees. And find huckleberries.

Writer-naturalist Mike Weilbacher directs a nature center near Philadelphia.

76 comments on the article “No Child Left Inside”

Displaying 51 - 60 of 76

Page 6 of 8

Anonymous Teen

This is bullshit. I myself am a teenager, and I spend many hours a week on a computer, and significantly fewer watching TV. I am perfectly capable of identifying plants and animals, and I enjoy the great outdoors, and I spend several hours a week outside also. I'd tend to agree that many of my fellow teenagers don't go outside enough, but if they don't want to, nobody should make them. Maybe making an attempt to show one's children the charms of being outside, but as a parent-making your kid going outside for no apparent reason will simply make them hate you.

Anonymous Teen

This is bullshit. I myself am a teenager, and I spend many hours a week on a computer, and significantly fewer watching TV. I am perfectly capable of identifying plants and animals, and I enjoy the great outdoors, and I spend several hours a week outside also. I'd tend to agree that many of my fellow teenagers don't go outside enough, but if they don't want to, nobody should make them. Maybe making an attempt to show one's children the charms of being outside, but as a parent-making your kid going outside for no apparent reason will simply make them hate you.

Anonymous

You fail to see the point of the article. While you may be able to name the plants outdoors you must also admit that the consumerist world we live in has created a insurmountable separation between the natural world and the artificial world. After all, who can make any money off of a day spent at the park when you can buy an xbox 360 and escape into a virtual world that has "photorealistic" graphics meant to mimic the real world.

The kids today are seduced by brands and logos at the very age when their brains are still developing. That means that, rather than create the critical social skills by getting hands-on experience with nature, they are convinced to stay and home and experience their world through mediums which are carefully controlled and filtered by the corporate world. Rather than attempt to figure things out on their own and explore they are thought to stop exploring and passively accept whatever the industry wants them too. No wonder we have increasing numbers of ADD!

Please stop focusing on the details of the article and attempt to get the main gist.

Anonymous

You fail to see the point of the article. While you may be able to name the plants outdoors you must also admit that the consumerist world we live in has created a insurmountable separation between the natural world and the artificial world. After all, who can make any money off of a day spent at the park when you can buy an xbox 360 and escape into a virtual world that has "photorealistic" graphics meant to mimic the real world.

The kids today are seduced by brands and logos at the very age when their brains are still developing. That means that, rather than create the critical social skills by getting hands-on experience with nature, they are convinced to stay and home and experience their world through mediums which are carefully controlled and filtered by the corporate world. Rather than attempt to figure things out on their own and explore they are thought to stop exploring and passively accept whatever the industry wants them too. No wonder we have increasing numbers of ADD!

Please stop focusing on the details of the article and attempt to get the main gist.

Anonymous

i'm a teenager myself and I never listen to crap like lady gaga or justin bieber, and I'm not the only one.
but that's not the point of the article.
why should I go outside if I can't find any mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets?
not because I can't recognice them, but because there ain't any!
well, that's not true, there are trees to climb here, and frogs, and some berries, but thats all.
and yes I DO climb trees and I like to be outside, but there isn't very much time, or opportunity.
besides all these new things (ipad, wii etc), I think THAT's the reason why children spend most of time inside.
If I have children in the future, they will certainly be outside and all the thinks mentioned in the article.
besides, nice I've learned to speak english, otherwise I wouldn't be able to express my opinie in his world.

laura

Anonymous

i'm a teenager myself and I never listen to crap like lady gaga or justin bieber, and I'm not the only one.
but that's not the point of the article.
why should I go outside if I can't find any mud pies, grasshoppers, tadpoles, frogs, mud turtles, elderberries, wild strawberries, acorns, chestnuts, trees to climb. Brooks to wade, woodchucks, bats, bees, butterflies, various animals to pet, hayfields, pinecones, rocks to roll, snakes, huckleberries and hornets?
not because I can't recognice them, but because there ain't any!
well, that's not true, there are trees to climb here, and frogs, and some berries, but thats all.
and yes I DO climb trees and I like to be outside, but there isn't very much time, or opportunity.
besides all these new things (ipad, wii etc), I think THAT's the reason why children spend most of time inside.
If I have children in the future, they will certainly be outside and all the thinks mentioned in the article.
besides, nice I've learned to speak english, otherwise I wouldn't be able to express my opinie in his world.

laura

David Lord

Dear Mr. Weilbacher,

I completely agree with everything you say. There is a complete mis-sense of humanity and realism in today's society. Too much for even Kant and Nietzsche to sort out maybe?
But the source of this problem is want: people wanted their kids to see the invention of television so we watched, people wanted their kids to be smarter so we read and people wanted their kids to experience social enlightening so we called, texted and even invented our own language.
Bur Mr Weilbacher all you are asking is more of the youngest youth. There is so much pressure that children don't notice but feel all you are doing, and alike many others, is applying more.
If there is not books to read there are shows to watch if not that texts or calls to recieve/send if not that healthy living to acquire and now if not that you want to guilt parents into forcing their children outside? Well I sincrely hope that one day the older generation, including myself, fuck off for once and allow this youth to grow, preferably outdoors, in the preferences they adore.

Thanks,
Dave

David Lord

Dear Mr. Weilbacher,

I completely agree with everything you say. There is a complete mis-sense of humanity and realism in today's society. Too much for even Kant and Nietzsche to sort out maybe?
But the source of this problem is want: people wanted their kids to see the invention of television so we watched, people wanted their kids to be smarter so we read and people wanted their kids to experience social enlightening so we called, texted and even invented our own language.
Bur Mr Weilbacher all you are asking is more of the youngest youth. There is so much pressure that children don't notice but feel all you are doing, and alike many others, is applying more.
If there is not books to read there are shows to watch if not that texts or calls to recieve/send if not that healthy living to acquire and now if not that you want to guilt parents into forcing their children outside? Well I sincrely hope that one day the older generation, including myself, fuck off for once and allow this youth to grow, preferably outdoors, in the preferences they adore.

Thanks,
Dave

Waldorfer

It is true that the Waldorf system steers heavily towards nature but it is also very christian in a scary patriarchal way (evangelic). We have been seriously considering Montessori school.

Waldorfer

It is true that the Waldorf system steers heavily towards nature but it is also very christian in a scary patriarchal way (evangelic). We have been seriously considering Montessori school.

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