Letís Go Outside!
All of America's children will have enjoyable and meaningful experiences in the out-of-doors, improving their health and well-being, and leading to life-long connections with the natural world.
In Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv wrote that children today are not spending time as much time outside as previous generations. This reduced time outdoors has negative implications for childrenís mental, physical, and emotional health, and for their success in school. It also has implications for their desire to protect the environment. Louv refers to this problem as "nature-deficit disorder."
Louvís book sparked an international social movement to reconnect children with nature. Stakeholders in this movement include parents, educators, health care providers, conservationists, outdoor recreation companies, land developers and more. This movement provides parents and communities with compelling reasons to conserve natural resources and provide outdoor experiences. New evidence shows that conservation is more than just the "right thing to do"—it is necessary for healthy childhood development and learning.
How does this movement fit with the Service priorities?
One of the Serviceís top six priorities is "Connecting People with Nature: Ensuring the Future of Conservation." Todayís children are the decision makers of the future. By focusing on connecting children and their families with nature, we are helping to ensure that our future constituents support the Serviceís conservation efforts. Additionally, many efforts to connect children with nature will by extension also connect parents, grandparents and other family members. The Serviceís slogan for this effort is "Letís Go Outside."
What are the elements of an activity or program that help connect children with nature?
Louvís book gives anecdotal and research-based examples of activities that successfully help children connect with nature. Children appear to connect with nature when they get outside on a regular, sustained basis to discover and explore. Connections are made when childrenís exposure is experiential, using as many senses as possible. Activities that promote selfguided learning and exploration, rather than highly structured activities, may help children make stronger connections to nature. Connecting with nature may not involve conveyance of facts or environmental concepts, but it is the foundation for future learning and respect for nature.
These experiences can occur outside anywhere that nature is found—not just on Service lands, but also in "nearby nature" such as school yards, urban parks, backyards and vacant woodlots. Connecting a child to nature does not require special training or experience as an educator. Nature connections can be developed in many ways and can be an important element of all Service programs. The Refuge Systemís "Big Six" public uses: hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, camping, nature photography, hiking, environmental education, fit nicely with this effort. Other Service programs can also engage people in outdoor activities, such as habitat restoration, invasive species and fish hatchery work.
What other agencies and organizations are working on this effort?
Many! The Department of the Interior agencies are all part of the "Youth in the Great Outdoors Initiative" which will employ, educate, and engage young people from all backgrounds in exploring, connecting with and preserving Americaís natural and cultural heritage. In addition, many national environmental organizations are engaged in this movement, such as the Children & Nature Network, Nature Rocks, National Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, and the Conservation Fund. Local and state governments and organizations are also keenly interested.