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Friday, September 22, 2006

This is no "eat your peas environmentalism"

One of the beautiful things about the Web is that I can watch City Club Friday Forums even when I can’t make the luncheon live.

That was the case today with Richard Louv’s Cleveland visit. Thanks to the generous partnership and technical prowess of the folks at the University of Akron, I was able to view his speech on Web cast.

Louv is author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

I caught his speech on the radio at first as I was driving home from Normandy Elementary (Michael had a mishap at lunch with the syrup and needed fresh shorts and sweatshirt, but that’s worthy of a whole other post). Louv, who is a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, spoke poignantly about his childhood spent pulling out survey stakes in the woods behind his suburban Kansas City home.

But he also talked about what keeps so many children out of the woods today: their parents’ fear. Only he took that belief one step further saying, “I’m a journalist and I hold my own profession accountable” for the hysteria surrounding abductions. Evidence has proven that most abduction occurs by family members or people with whom a family has had contact.

We have been conditioned to think there’s a pervert lurking behind every cluster of trees or every patch of tall grass. This raises the importance of parents taking kids in nature, something that also provides the same benefits of improved cognitive functioning, attention span and health (including reduction in stress) for kids and parents. “This is not a bitter pill,” says Louv.

Bay Village and Avon Lake recently collaborated on a wonderful park about 500 feet from my home. It's comprised of a walking path, large water-filled retention basin, woods and open fields (mostly for soccer). That's it. You've got to watch out for geese poop when jogging on the path, but otherwise it's a slice of heaven. This summer Mikey discovered that tiny frogs live in the tall grass just along the edge of the pond. And when you walk close to the shore you can see scores of them leaping into the water for safety. Unfortunately, since school has started, we haven't taken a walk. It's time to move that up on the list of important things to do with the kids.

But there are other things that stymie our kids from playing outside. Here are a few examples Louv shared.

Our litigious society has led to things such as signs on a Broward County Florida playground that read “No running” or neighborhood associations that sue homeowners over construction of a basketball hoop or tree fort. My former boss's kids made the local news a few years ago because their tree fort upset their Solon neighborhood. “One community association recently banned chalk drawing,” he says. He implored the attorneys in the audience (of which I'm sure there were many) to help change this.

Repeatedly we are told — and our children are told — that changing the world is too late, it’s over. “Naturally they don’t want to suit up for the game,” he says. That’s the message that the media has beat into them.

Louv recalls a recent instance in which a local high school biology teacher asked him to speak to a group of students. He was tired after having traveled and didn’t think the kids would care much. But since his book was written about kids, he was somewhat guilted into going. Instead of the expected 20 kids, he spoke to 200.

“I talked to them about the connection between their health and nature. And that because of global warming we are being forced to think differently about things like agriculture, architecture and urban design and energy sources. There are all kinds of new careers that don’t even have names yet.”

He had their attention and when Louv asked the biology teacher what it was about his talk that kept their interest, the biology teacher replied, “You said something hopeful about the environment. They never hear that.”

Louv ended his speech talking about the young people. “What generation of young people hasn’t wanted to build a new civilization? This is a great opportunity. Everything must change.”


K-Oh said...

Great post, Wendy-- thanks for summarizing his remarks. I find the title of his book really interesting and look forward to reading it.

My 28-year old daughter is sure she's of the last generation that just ran through the neighborhoods with a gang of kids, had huge chunks of unregulated and unscheduled time-- just played, in other words.

I remember seeing, years ago, some famous scientist interviewed on tv. The interviewer asked him about what in his youth had steered him toward such an amazing career-- did his parents school him in math, did he read about other great scientists, and so on. But no-- he said he had to work a lot on a farm and found himself fascinated by ponds. Just watching those ponds on his own pushed him towards science.

TomM said...

My wife has been spooked by all of the media reports about abductions. My 14 yr old daughter has never roamed far from home partly from my wife's concern and partly from my daughter's own cautiousness. My 11 yr old son, however, loves to roam. We have overcome my wife's anxiousness to an extent by giving my a son walkie-talkie. This electronic tether allows us to call him home when needed and provides the peace of mind that he can call us if he gets in trouble. Also, his participation in Boy Scouts allows him to explore some wilder parts of nature away from suburbia while still being monitored.

Wendy Hoke said...

Hi K! Who knew that fascination with ponds could stimulate a career! I'm looking forward to reading Louv's book.

And Tom, it's nice to see you here. We all have wrestled with anxiety over letting our kids roam. The best we can do is equip our children with common sense and pray they use it well.