In 2013, a report by the RSPB found that just one in five children in the UK are ‘connected to nature’. More and more children (and often adults) are choosing to spend time in urban areas, or inside with their technology, rather than out and about exploring local parks or forests.
As a big sister, I often find myself at war with my 12 year old sister attached to her iPhone taking selfies, or trying to drag my 8 year old sister away from her Kindle… as amazing as technology can be (and don’t get me wrong, I really love my iPhone) it can often be my worst nightmare. Whenever I’m with my younger brothers and sisters I try to get them outside so they can enjoy the great outdoors… and where I can I try to encourage them to feel connected with nature and the world around them because let’s face it – if children aren’t connecting with nature, how can we expect them to care about the environment around them?
It’s sad how much we rely on technology to have fun, and this reliance on technology and reluctance to get outside can have huge impacts on children’s health and development. Research shows that children who play outdoors:
- Become fitter and leaner
- Develop stronger immune systems
- Have more active imaginations and play more creatively
- Have lower stress levels and are less likely to suffer from depression
- Have greater respect for themselves and others
Why wouldn’t we want this for our children? We don’t have to make drastic changes to our lives, or spend a fortune, to help connect our children with nature. The RSPB define ‘connected to nature’ as having empathy for creatures, having a sense of responsibility for the environment, enjoyment of nature and having a sense of oneness with nature. Buthow do we encourage these attitudes and feelings with the younger generation?
- Having a pet is a brilliant way to build strong relationships between children and animals (but pets are a big responsibility so I’m not suggesting everyone goes out and buys a cat or dog!).
- Trips to local farms are another great way to get kids thinking and caring about animals, especially if they can touch or feed the animals. I took my younger sister lambing one year, and they got to hold and feed a baby lamb – they still talk about it to this day!
- A walk along your local river, or around a local lake to see the local wildlife
- A trip to your local outdoor centre – many towns have areas where you can canoe, kayak, climb, abseil – all in the outdoors
- Sign your child up to a local Girlguiding or Scout group. Here there’ll have an opportunity to learn from others, be challenged, and do outdoor activities and camps.
- Encourage children to be more environmentally friendly by making it fun and easy. Label recycling bins to they know where they are, reward them if they’ve finished their dinner, or taken a shorter shower, or helped you in the garden. Why not try making a robot out of all those Amazon boxes in the recycling bin? Or use an empty coke bottle to make a rainwater collector for your garden? Kids love creating things and getting out there – so make it sustainable and teach them about the environment while they do it!
However we do it – it is clear that we need to do something to encourage the younger generation to connect with nature. We live in a changing world, and we need to ensure that our children and their children appreciate the world around them as one day it will be them working to protect it.