Technology has been touted as the evil one destroying our children’s relationship with nature. “It’s turning them into zombies!” How often have you heard that comment? Though I agree with the fact that we have a real problem with an overuse of technology, I don’t believe we need to forego it altogether. Technology can be a tremendous asset towards improving our child’s relationship with nature. And teaching children how to use technology in this way could potentially generate a powerful and lasting effect on them, on the planet, and (surprisingly) yourself as well.
According to the book, Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, children today suffer from what he calls “nature-deficit disorder.” Instead of enjoying the Great Outdoors, these children stay inside, playing video games and updating their social media. He says that for many of this generation, nature is becoming more “abstraction than reality.”
But if we reconnect children with nature, powerful change will happen. Louv says environment and nature-based programs have improved attendance, behavior and standardized scores in schools across the world. Two major studies in Canada showed that school grounds with diverse natural settings promote physical activity, nutrition awareness, civility among the students, and creativity.
The possibilities are endless, especially if nature-related activities are a focus in the home and not just left for the school systems to teach. What I mean here is: We need to do our part too! Don’t be a “nature-slacker parent.” (Yes, I just made that phrase up.)
As a mother, I have worked to bring nature into the lives of my girls. I take them hiking and canoeing. I teach them how to kayak and backpack. I show them the miracles of nature as we see it happen. We definitely “stop and smell the roses” throughout everything we do, and it pays off! My girls can identify an eastern garter snake, recognize duck eggs, tell the difference between a frog and a toad, and know what to do when they see an injured baby bird. The list goes on and continues to grow with each adventure.
(In case you’re wondering: I’m like most moms where I have a full time career and limited free time.)
So, in order to have these adventures, I had to make the time for it. I also had to find my own resources. And the way in which I find my resources is the key to my underlining point here.
We can all agree that technology is the enemy concerning “nature-deficit disorder,” but taking it away in order to enjoy nature could come across as punishment. If that happens, you have almost sealed the deal that your child will never go outside again. So don’t avoid technology – use it! It can be your best tool in getting your children more involved with nature.
For example, I use the internet to find out if there are any programs out there my girls and I would enjoy. One of the resources I found was from the Department of Natural Resources. They have a family program called Park Quest ($10 for endless state park visits on any day!) that they run every summer. Every year I sign us up through their Facebook page. And, while on Quests (activities specifically designed to learn about the nature of the particular park you are in), whenever we find a cool creature or a peculiar plant we couldn’t identify, we would take a picture of the species in question with our iPhones so we could identify them later using the internet.
Once, while out hiking a nature trail, we heard a particular bird in the forest give out a song that was almost exactly like the mocking-jay’s song from the Hunger Games. Pretty cool, right? We opened our birdsong app from our phone and recorded the sound in order to find out which bird it was. (BTW – it was a chickadee.)
And throughout each year, whenever we want to go hiking, mountain biking, or whatever, we pull up our trails app from our phones and make plans for our next adventure.
Basically, there are two points here:
- Technology doesn’t have to be the enemy if used properly. The trick, however, is to make sure they only use it for the purposes of expanding on the nature they are witnessing, ex. Identification, photos, maybe even post their experience on social media, etc. And –
- Just go out and do things – even if you only go right out your back door or local park. Our backyard is actually where my girls have experienced some of their nature-related adventures. (The duck eggs were discovered when I simply sent them out to rake leaves.)
By keeping to these two points, you will ultimately be creating in your children, according to Louv, stronger health and cognitive functions in your children; balanced emotional processing; and, according to me, a healthy use and understanding of technology. I also believe that creating a nature-related atmosphere at home as well as at school is the best hope for us to teach future generations how to live more sustainably. When our children engage with nature they appreciate how that same nature sustains life. And, more importantly, they understand the consequences of their actions. I know this saying is cheesy, but it’s true: “The children are our future.”
A key element that cannot – and should not – be overlooked is the fact that I created some amazing memories with my girls as well as learned more about nature myself. It will happen for you too. Just like Louv says in his book:
“If getting our kids out into nature is a search for perfection, or is one more chore, then the belief in perfection and the chore defeats the joy. It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.”