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What’s All the Fuss About Kids and Nature?

by Marius Hardut last modified Jan 20, 2015 07:23 PM
For me, the answer comes down to a pair of compelling insights. First, the present disconnect between kids and nature literally threatens the health of children. The average North American child currently spends seven to ten hours each day staring at screens, and mere minutes engaged in unstructured play outdoors, a dramatic transformation within the past generation.

Editor's Note: We are excited to announce Dr. Scott Sampson as our new Program Ambassador. "Dr. Scott" is a dinosaur paleontologist and passionate advocate for connecting people with nature. His primary role is Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and he is the author of the soon-to-be-released book How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature. He is well-known as Dr. Scott, host and science advisor of the PBS KIDS television series Dinosaur Train. This is the first in a series of blog posts that Dr. Scott will write for Nature Rocks.  

I’m thrilled to become the first National Ambassador for The Nature Conservancy’s Nature Rocks program. The Nature Conservancy is a world leader in preserving nature, and Nature Rocks encourages families to get outdoors to explore all those natural wonders.

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A family outdoors enjoying nature; Image credit: Ian Shive

This is the inaugural blog post in a series I’ll be writing for the Nature Rocks website. In future posts I’ll offer tips to help parents and other caregivers deepen children’s connection with the natural world. But I thought I’d kick things off by addressing the big question of “Why?” Why is it important that we get children outdoors and connect them with nature?

For me, the answer comes down to a pair of compelling insights. First, the present disconnect between kids and nature literally threatens the health of children. The average North American child currently spends seven to ten hours each day staring at screens, and mere minutes engaged in unstructured play outdoors, a dramatic transformation within the past generation. Unsurprisingly, rates of obesity, ADHD, heart disease, and depression among children have been skyrocketing. Numerous studies now demonstrate the critical importance of unstructured play for growing minds and bodies. And many other studies document the power of hands-on, place-based learning in natural settings. Put simply, kids need nature, and they aren’t getting it.

The second insight relates to the health of the places we live.
Ask a bunch of scientists to name the most urgent issues of our time and you’re likely to hear such answers as climate change, species extinctions, and habitat destruction. To this list we need to add another equally critical yet largely overlooked crisis—the human-nature disconnect. How are we going to create ecologically sustainable communities if we don’t care about where we live? And why would we ever care unless we spend time outdoors in those places, building emotional and intellectual connections? Helping children fall in love with nature deserves to be a top national (and international) priority, on par with reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preserving species and wild places. Indeed a strong argument can be made that we cannot address these other pressing crises until we bridge the chasm between children and nature.

People tend to think of time in nature as a terrific recreational option for kids, but well below homework, team sports, and music lessons on the priority list. Yet a meaningful connection with nearby nature is one of the greatest and most essential gifts that any child can receive. So, as we enter the Christmas season, think about ways that you can share the gift of nature—all year long.

Dr. Scott Sampson headshot-150x150

Scott Sampson

Scott Sampson serves as the Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. In his role as “Dr. Scott,” he is the host and science advisor for PBS KIDS Dinosaur Train. He is also author of the upcoming general audience book, How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, March 2015). You can follow Dr. Scott on Twitter at: @DrScottSampson.

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