Physical Mental and Spiritual Health of Children

A week ago Friday I attended the annual regional conference of the Bay Area Open Space Council.

One featured speaker, Ray Minjares, is a grad student at UC Berkeley in public health. He gave a talk on the public health costs of poorly planned growth; i.e., Sprawl! (See my post Supersize Me! The Housing Problem as a Spiritual Matter, too.) This is a necessary and important conversation for the environmental community to be having with planners and with public health professionals.

Another featured speaker was Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder..

He was an unassuming but very powerful speaker, thanks to his ideas. And slogans! He said he resisted the publisher's desire to take the phrase "nature deficit disorder" from the book and elevate it to the title. "That just shows how much I know about marketing," he said.

Another great slogan: "No child left inside!"

Cheers and clapping. "That's my only guaranteed applause line," he said.

He finds this issue resonates with nearly everyone. A "doorway issue," where people can walk through the door together even if they don't agree on much. And a "wedge issue," where environmentalists can peel off support from people who would otherwise appear to be opponents.

Louv related a story about the woods near where he grew up, how he felt he owned those woods. Yet he had no idea those woods were in any way connected to any other woods, or that there might be forests in trouble in other parts of the world. Today, the reverse is true: Lots of kids know about the problems of the Amazon rain forest, but few of them could tell you when they last stood in the woods and simply looked at leaves.

Louv also talked about writing a chapter on the impact on children's spiritual health of not having enough nature nearby. He said he was very careful how he wrote it, because he didn't want to offend Christian conservatives (and thereby have them miss the point of the book). He had a neighbor who is a conservative Christian read it, and she liked it. He hasn't received any negative comments about that chapter yet.

I was browsing through Flickr today for photos of where I grew up, and found some lovely ones here and here. I was blessed to live in an exurb where there were still small working farms nearby, and woods in the backyard. Now, I count my sons lucky that we live across the street from a park where there is a variety of form: tennis courts, baseball and soccer fields, playground, and also hills, paths among bushes, and lots of trees.


ef said...

Wow, the pictures of your homeland gave me shivers (well, especially the waterfall)

Makes me think perhaps there is something primal about physical home. I am from Philadelphia, and love Minnesota, but something in the landscape of the middle atlantic states resonates with me in way that even lake superior doesnt'.

I am glad to live about 10 blocks from the Mississipi, and to be able to walk my dogs by the water, a bit away from roads and traffic.

I was recently reading Hope, Human and Wild by Bill McKibben, in which he profiles two impoverished areas of the world with a high quality of life (one purpose being, I think, to suggest how the rest of us might choose to organize our surroundings once the looming environmental crises hit)

and one of his examples is a city in Brazil in which they greatly increased the amount of parkland (and public transit, and social programs) - he claims that from most (all?) windows in the town you see mostly green.

I have never lived in anything but a big city (St. Paul or Oslo being the smallest) but I have always found the pockets of nature. I was actually surprised to find how difficult it felt to find such nature in "the country" where everything seems to be farmland. (a sparrow just landed in my 5'6" cherry tree - the branches are still pretty small, and it swung wildly for a moment)

I had been meaning to get a copy of that book, I'm glad you brought it up. I have just requested it from the library (4 holds before me, perhaps it will reach a good number of people!)


Cat C-B (and/or Peter B) said...

Thank you for your post. The fact that I grew up in the woods seems as important a part of who I am as a spiritual being as anything else in my life experience--and yet, it's something that would be so hard to explain to anyone for whom nature is an abstraction rather than a childhood friend.

I know that, when I travel outside the biome I grew up in, I feel cut off from something vitally important to me. Home is more than a place on a map... it's a presence. I'm just not "all there" when I don't get to be around trees, leaves, and wild things.

Linda said...

Thanks for this post. It affirms my belief that the best thing urban teachers can do with the few field trips allowed is to forget the museums and such get outside. One of my fondest memories is taking a class of third graders on a hike in Redwood Park. It was just after a rainy spell, and there were mushrooms everywhere. Every time a kid spotted new ones, he or she would holler "mushrooms!" and twenty kids would come running. Each time! It amazed me, because you don't really need to run to see mushrooms, they're not going anywhere soon. But there is something really charming about all that enthusiasm for such a simple, quiet wonder.

Chris M. said...

Thanks, Friends. Yes, Pam, I agree about the shivers! Me, too!

Cat and Linda, thanks for commenting. This is a primal connection, after all, and our bodies know it...