There was a time when childhood was defined by unstructured time outside. It was a time when children were free to roam across fields, climb trees, explore creeks, and play ball in vacant lots. It was a time when children were not expected back in the house until the skies began to darken. When was this magical era? Actually, it was pretty much all of human history until about the last two decades.
We now live in a time where childhood is spent indoors. Today, the average American child spends 90 percent of his time indoors, and a whopping 6 to 10 hours per day in front of a screen! The developments of the past 20 years have combined to create a culture that is indoors and stationary. These developments include urbanization, massive advances in technology and digital media, the rapid disappearance of parks and other public green spaces, and a sharp increase in parental fear. Specifically, the fear of stranger danger, liability, and nature itself.
Why does this matter? When a kid is inside, they are virtually stationary, which is a major contributor to our current childhood obesity epidemic. Additionally, the medical community has now connected too much time inside with myopia and osteoporosis. Studies have also shown that children who live an indoor lifestyle are more likely to experience attention deficit disorder and depression.
What does nature have to offer? In short, it promises happier, healthier, and smarter kids! There is an ever-growing body of research suggesting that academic performance goes up as time outside in nature is increased. Playing outside encourages creativity, problem solving, and teamwork. It also promotes introspection and provides kids with a peaceful and quiet space in an otherwise noisy and frenzied world. Time outside fosters a reverence for nature and a sense of stewardship for the planet. And finally, let’s not forget that playing outside is fun! It deeply saddens me to think that so many kids are completely unaware of what they are missing.
What can be done about it? The first and most powerful thing you can do is to take a child outside today. Take kids out into the garden and have them get their hands dirty. Turn over rocks and look for bugs. Walk barefoot on the grass. Go for a hike. There are countless ways that you can get kids engaged with nature. Often, the only thing that a child needs to get started is a caring parent, teacher, or mentor who can show them what the outdoors has to offer.
The book you are holding in your hands is an invaluable resource for connecting children, families, and communities to the wonders of the natural world. Jason Sperling masterfully combines his wisdom with heartwarming true life stories and just a hint of nostalgia. The tools and advice in this book will empower you to engage in a more authentic connection with nature, improve family relationships, and build resilient communities. So, lace up your boots, step out your door, and take a deep breath. This will be a journey to remember!
Director of the documentary film “Nature Kids”, host of the “Nature Kids Radio” podcast and founder of The Nature Kids Institute