The Security of Nature
I am sitting on top of a hill overlooking a wooded forest that defines the landscape of my favorite place in the whole world. As I gaze up into the cloudless sky above me, I find myself trying to put a name to this feeling.
I’ve been asked more times than I can count why I’m so passionate about the child and nature movement. Just as often as I have difficulty describing the feeling I get from nature, I struggle to succinctly explain my participation in this inspiring movement. It’s not because I can’t think of one particular reason; I could go on for hours about the necessity of a connection to nature for the social, emotional and physical development of children. I could talk about the link to healthy active living, the need to combat record-breaking screen-watching times, or my personal favorite, the relationship between nature and mental health. These facts tumble out of my mouth before I can come up with a less daunting answer, but today is different. Today, for the first time, I can tell you with one word why I fell in love with the child and nature movement. It is also the same reason I find peace sitting outside watching the sunset - security.
We live in a world where the media is continuously telling us how much trouble our society is in. The economy seems to always be in shambles, global warming is terrifying, divorce rates have hit an all time high and to top it all off we need to worry about poverty, terrorism and human rights. Watching the six o’clock news is enough to make someone want to stick their head in the sand. As a result of a globally interconnected culture, the problems that plague communities across the globe are a whole lot more apparent than they were 30 years ago. The world we live in does not feel as secure as it once did and it would be naive to think that it’s not affecting today’s generation of children.
Kids today live in world where society largely believes that leaving the backyard to play is too dangerous, walking to school is too risky and exploring the small river in the park is a health hazard. The only place to be absolutely safe is inside. This fear-focused parenting style that has become so popular is affecting the physical, social, emotional and cognitive development of kids. It’s stopping them from taking healthy risks, gaining self-confidence and exploring their surroundings. We are actively teaching children to be afraid of the world around them and preventing them from feeling secure in a way that is essential for healthy growth. It is not surprising then, that child psychopathology is on the rise. Incidence rates of ADHD, depression, anxiety and suicide in children and teens have never been higher and are predicted to increase by 50% by the year 20201. We can no longer ignore this societal crisis.
However, there is something that we can do to make sure this generation of children reaches adulthood feeling secure and safe in their individuality and surroundings. Take your child outside; let them discover at what height they can jump from before it hurts, or how fast they can run down a grassy hill before they fall. Let them explore the fascinating world that is nature, let them watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly and understand that their potential has no bounds.
As I sit atop this hill, I’ve just finished my undergraduate degree and I’m not really sure what my next step will be. In spite of this, I know that no matter what life brings my way, I can sit in this spot and watch the sun rise and set below this tree line. So I’m asking something of everyone who reads this article: take a child outside and let them fall in love with nature. Give them the security that no matter what happens in their lives there will always be a special spot from where they can sit and watch the sun rise.
1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2000). Report of the Surgeon General’s conference on children’s mental health: A national action agenda. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
Sarah Walker is a 2013 Legacy Camp participant, 2014 Legacy Camp trainer and sits on the board of directors for the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada. She currently lives in Prince Edward County, where she is the Program Coordinator of her community’s Come Alive Outside program. You can learn more about her work with the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada at www.childnature.ca