Geeks In the Woods

I just returned from Day One of an environmental education symposium in Indianapolis. There was a lot of good stuff but the highlight was probably a keynote presentation by Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods.” His book has become an essential resource for environmental educators and he was even more inspiring as a speaker, despite the (typical) webinar glitches we experienced at the conference. His basic tenant is that children (and adults) need quality time in a natural setting to be happy and healthy. The book argues his point persuasively and also provides ideas of how to overcome the obstacles that keep kids indoors. He acknowledges that it will require work from lots of different fronts – parents, teachers, administrators, governments, and even kids.

But the thing I found most inspiring about his talk was the simple message that what kids need most of all right now is to be given hope. They are constantly bombarded with messages about how the environment is being destroyed and it is easy for them (us?) to feel completely powerless and just let go. They need adults to tell them it’s not too late to connect with nature and to protect the environment.

I thought this was expressed best by a teenage video game aficionado who read “The Last Child in the Woods” and started up a website called GEEKS in the Woods.

The first thing we want to say is that we are young but we are people. We have opinions, concerns, doubts, fears, and questions about everything on this planet including wild places in the great outdoors, obesity and health issues that include the mental state of our parent’s generation because they all seem so stressed out!

Sometimes we feel like a “bug in a jar” under a magnifying glass. We appreciate that you study us and we are certain that your research is vital. But remember, you were all once young people, too. We are not a strange, unique, or newly discovered species. Whatever you really liked about nature and being outside will probably hit the mark with us in a big way as long as nature is still there!

What do we want to do outside? Absolutely nothing…unless you can show us the “YO” factor…unless you can explain how we are linked to the outdoors and the planet…unless you can make it relate directly to our life. If you make it personal and global, we will notice!

We are primarily indoor kids. Some people have indoor cats…we are indoor children. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy being outside. We don’t have to wear an air tight NATURE SUIT with a helmet and an oxygen tank to go out in the woods. However, some of us don’t know this unless you prove it to us…and prove it again and again!

We tend to be very wary of the unknown….everything from trying to watch tv without a remote control to asking our parents to take us on a hike. We probably won’t ask them, but hope they’ll keep asking us because we like to be pursued!

We love Bambi and other Disney movies but if most of us saw a real deer in the real woods we’d be terrified…unless someone shows us that not only is knowledge of nature important but that WE are part of nature. We might still be afraid (because, darn! Look at those antlers!!) but we probably won’t run away and we’ll eventually love it.

Parents, teachers, interpreters, directors, policy makers…who ever you are, please realize that we recognize sincerity. We know when you care about what you are doing and we know when you care that we care.

When you take us outside or present a program to us, please pay close attention to our reactions and our needs. Sometimes we are hesitant to tell you. We like attention. Lots of attention. (You love us, right? Right?)

We need you to experience whatever it is that we are experiencing with us…even if you’ve seen it, touched it, done it a million times before. That is the magic YOU possess to capture OUR attention!

Just make it fun!

We are a techno generation. But that doesn’t mean that we have to learn everything through technology. Oh, we like it, but don’t think you have to make it beep or light up to get our attention.

Those of us who have crossed the great barrier and realized that nature is way cool and that being outside is “sweeeeeet!!” can tell you that the sound of the wind in the trees, the oxygen in our lungs, the song of a bird, the feel of sun on our face, the warmth of a campfire or a starry sky overhead cannot be improved through technology. Oh, it can be enhanced, but please realize that you can get our attention with the real stuff.

That is what it is all about anyway….being REAL! (Radical, Environmental, All-healthy and Longterm)


GEEKs in the Woods this!

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Gini said,

    June 28, 2008 @ 8:09 am

    It’s my experience that most young children (under 6 years old) are naturally drawn to nature study– especially bugs and worms! Given the opportunity, they are eager to turn over logs and dig in the dirt to see what they can find. Fostering this affinity to nature is the first step in developing awareness of our place in the natural world. David Sobel wrote a book, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education (cited by Louv), in which he talks about the importance of establishing empathy first, then engaging children in exploration, and finally addressing social action. He relates these stages to stages in children’s development– developing empathy in early childhood (4-7 years old), exploration in middle childhood (8-11 years old) and addressing social action in early adolescence (12-15 years old). These stages correlate with the size of a child’s world and the ability to abstract.

    I see a lot of anxious kids under the age of 6, and if we begin by intoducing them to problems, they may just become more anxious or even despondent about the world they live in. The world becomes too big, too soon for them. As my school embarks more seriously in environmental education, I am trying to focus attention on that first stage– trips to Yellowstone are terrific, but unless we foster empathy and connectedness in our own backyards, nature will always be something ‘out there’, to be visited on holiday, rather than something we are immersed in and have an impact on all the time.

    There are important issues of developing comfort and independence, too.
    I believe Will has fond memories of being dropped off near the woods in order to walk part of the way to school even though I was driving there anyway. Manufactured experiences are better than no experiences at all, and if a child is always closely supervised, how does a sense of ones own capacities develop?

  2. 2

    Maggie said,

    June 29, 2008 @ 10:29 pm

    One of the other interesting things that Richard Louv said was that kids are losing their ability to self-regulate. He believes it’s at least partly due to the fact that they are supervised so much and kept in highly regulated spaces where they don’t get a chance to experiment. Children need to be allowed to run too fast and fall down so they learn not to run so fast, even if they also experience bruised knees. They also need to learn how to calm themselves down without having an adult force them to.

    Interesting stuff. I do think it’s a challenge to find ways to give kids extra freedom while still feeling that they are safe. I ran around like a wild child and turned out fine but I’m not sure I’ll feel comfortable letting my own kids do the same. But I’ll try.

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