The Guardian reports that the experts agree: children are too enclosed. Lessons about Britain’s flora and fauna could be the answer.
It is now 12 years since the American author Richard Louv pointed out that something new and potentially very damaging was happening to children: they were retreating from the world of outside. Young people were no longer playing in the fields, woods and parks where their parents played, and they were losing contact with nature: for their leisure time, they were retreating back inside the house.
In Last Child in the Woods, Louv documented the causes and consequences. Of the reasons, two stood out: parents’ mushrooming fear of “stranger danger”, the belief that outside has become a very risky place for the unaccompanied young; and the powerful attraction of electronic screens, of computer games and the internet for children themselves.
The consequences of their increasing alienation from the natural world, Louv said, included diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses. He gave the syndrome a name: nature deficit disorder.
Children who are not aware of or interested in the natural world will be less likely to grow into its defenders, at a time when it is under mortal threat as a consequence of climate change and other factors.
Natural England, the National Trust and the RSPB all draw pretty much the same conclusions: a majority of children no longer climb trees or play by streams and ponds, have become largely unfamiliar with even common wildlife, and are leading enclosed lives that are potentially harmful for their emotional and physical development. This is why a recently launched petition to the government is so interesting: it calls for the development of a GCSE in natural history.
Its proposer is the radio and TV producer Mary Colwell, an increasingly influential figure in the field of nature conservation. Colwell’s idea is “to make nature part of British society again”. Although it might be argued that introducing nature to children at the GCSE-choice age of 14 is simply too late, and if the effort is to be made at all it should be much earlier.
Last Child in the Woods was published in 2005, when Facebook was only a year old, and two years before the first iPhone was released. The full-blown addiction to social media and electronic devices that ensued undoubtedly means that nature deficit disorder will have intensified far beyond what Louv originally documented.
Whether by a new GCSE or some other means, if we value our planet it’s vital that we reconnect future generations with the living world around them.
Surely there aren’t the resources to fund another ‘unessential’ GCSE? What are your thoughts? Please comment or on Twitter ~ Tamsin
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