Thursday Thought: No Child Left Inside

Jake Norton and family on the summit of Mt. Chicorua, New Hampshire, circa 1980. Kick the can. Climbing trees.

Falling in ponds and catching frogs.

Climbing rocks and skinning knees.

Brushing it all off and going out the next day for more.

Those are many of the memories of my childhood.

We played, and played hard. We experienced, and enjoyed, nature, despite the inevitable bumps, bruises, and scrapes that came with the territory.

Being outside was not a privilege or a punishment, but just an integral part of life; it's what we did.

And, looking back, it was that early, long term exposure to nature which helped define who I am today. Playing in the natural world gave me a deep respect for its beauty, power, and magic. It also taught me how to be self-reliant: if I climbed a tree, I better be careful, as no one would be there to pick me up and kiss the bumps when I fell.

The natural world taught me also to not take myself too seriously: it reminded me, even as a little kid, that I am but one, tiny, tiny cog in a very big piece of machinery. And, it of course taught me to enjoy using my body, to revel in physical activity and all it offered.

As William Wordsworth wrote, I "let nature be my teacher". And a good teacher it was.

Sadly, though, it seems to me that a nefarious brew of risk aversion, liability & litigation, and urban sprawl have changed the way kids today experience and interact with nature…if they do so at all.

And that scares me. It scares me deeply, not simply because the lack of venturing outdoors – even to a local park – is creating a generation of dangerously obese children and adults, but also because I believe interaction with the natural world creates stronger people who respect our world and all who inhabit it. And, as the father of 2 children, I want them to grow up with a connection to, and love for, the natural world.

So, with National Get Outdoors Day coming up on June 12th, and having recently read Richard Louv's great book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, I thought the need for connecting with the outdoors would be a good topic for this week's Thursday Thought.

Below are a melange of quotes – enjoy! And, remember to get yourself, and your kids and friends, outside on Saturday, June 12th, for National Get Outdoors Day!

What do parents owe their young that is more important than a warm and trusting connection to the Earth…? 
    – Theodore Roszak, The Voice of the Earth

Here is this vast, savage, howling  mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty, and such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man.
    – Henry David Thoreau

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.
    – John Burroughs

Man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; [the Lakota] knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans too.
    – Luther Standing Bear

I am well again, I came to life in the cool winds and crystal waters of the mountains…
    – John Muir

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature   the assurance
that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.
    – Rachel Carson

Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.
    – John Muir

If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
    – Henry David Thoreau

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.
    – John Muir

The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.
    – Richard Louv

For those of you interested in more of what Richard Louv has to say about "Nature Deficit Disorder" and the need to get kids outside, listen to the interview below of Louv from ABC News, Brisbane:

Richard Louv interview

Jake Norton is
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  1. Cam Burns
    Cam BurnsJune 11,10

    Nature as educator. It’ what we had for millennia, then we got some silly notion that books and classrooms are better. Downward spiral, I say.

  2. Jake Norton
    Jake NortonJune 11,10

    Well said, Cam. I love books and school, too, but we need to have a similar focus on kids getting experiential learning outside. It's a great classroom out there as you know as well as anyone!

  3. Adayak
    AdayakJune 14,10

    I spent so much time in the woods growing up – building forts, playing in creeks, cutting trails. It was some of the most memorable moments of my childhood and I think it helped build me into who I am today. You make some great points and we really should encourage kids to get outdoors more than they are today.

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