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|Losing Out On Nature|
|04/01/02 at 16:53:03|
|Losing Out On Nature ; Children Shun Forests, Fields For Tv, Computers, Experts Say|
(Richmond Times - Dispatch)
The Cub Scouts of Bear Den 1, Pack 737, look like wholesome, well- rounded boys. And the things they do for fun in western Henrico County seem perfectly normal for modern kids.
Video games. Television. Books. Music. Playing hide-and-seek in the back yard. Racing toy cars on the deck.
The children related their interests while squirmily assembled in a Times-Dispatch conference room. One stood out.
Reed Bresson, 8, said he likes to ride his bike to a creek. "I bring my fishing rod with me so I can catch fish."
Explaining, Reed said the creek is a short distance from his house, where his parents can keep an eye on him. It sounded like fun, but not quite an Old Yeller-style adventure.
No one spoke of happy hours catching tadpoles, or exploring a nearby forest. Asked to identify bird sounds, just two of eight knew the "bob, bob white" of the quail. None knew the three-note call of the whippoorwill.
Quail, whippoorwills and many other once-common animals are disappearing from rapidly urbanizing parts of Virginia. And so, it seems, are the children who once shared forests and fields with them.
Many children are losing touch with nature, according to researchers who study them and scientists who work with them.
Children are increasingly entertained by TV and video games, housed in communities where they can't walk to forests and raised by parents who are afraid to let them out of sight for long, the experts say.
If kids don't develop an early link with nature, experts say, those children and the natural world will suffer. The children will miss out on an important part of growing up, and when they are older, they might not be interested in protecting disappearing animals and ecosystems.
"If you don't know what's there, you are not going to miss it" when it disappears, said Michael Mappin, coordinator of ecology education at a University of Calgary field station in the Canadian Rockies.
This nature malnourishment is a huge issue with scientists across North America and Europe, said Mappin, who is chairman of the education section of the Ecological Society of America, a scientific group.
The solution? Parents and children should get outside, starting in their back yards, Mappin said.
Greg Bresson, Reed's father, said he encourages his son's outdoor activities, but he also doesn't want him out of sight for long.
"Where I grew up, we could spend hours finding crayfish, swimming and fishing," said Bresson, 39, who was raised in rural northeastern Ohio. "It was self-entertainment."
Now, a parent has to worry more about safety, Bresson said. "I can't say that my comfort level would be the same as my mother's. I want to know where he is."
Children can learn about nature in many ways, but fewer seem to be doing it on their own. Environmental groups, nature centers and TV tailor programs for children. As a result, experts say, children in Virginia know more about pandas and whales a world away than about animals such as wood thrushes, box turtles and tree frogs that are struggling for survival near their homes.
"Most of the connection with animals now is made from TV," said Tom Thorp, a naturalist at Three Lakes Nature Center in Henrico.
"Kids might not know a black rat snake" - a harmless creature that's declining locally - "but they know a cobra, because it was on `The Crocodile Hunter.'"
Much of the evidence of this divorce from nature is anecdotal, like the Scouts' stories and Thorp's experience. But research indicates the phenomenon in at least two ways - people are increasingly living in urban areas, and youngsters are spending more time indoors.
In 1960, 43 percent of Virginians lived in cities or their suburban fringes. By 1990, urban dwellers jumped to 62 percent of the population. When the latest numbers are teased from the 2000 census, the percentage of nonrural residents will probably be even higher.
"Urbanism is spreading," said Dr. Julia H. Martin, a University of Virginia population expert.
That's not all that's spreading. Obesity in children between ages 8 and 16 has more than doubled in 20 years, said Dr. Carlos Crespo, a University at Buffalo epidemiologist who studies children's habits.
The problem, Crespo said, is that children are watching more television and, within the past decade or so, also using computers.
"Kids are more inactive. . . . They are valuing their electronic friend more than they would value the squirrel running around or the dog chasing the cat, or playing outdoors."
To make matters worse, modern subdivisions don't encourage outdoor activity, Crespo said. They are often built without sidewalks and far from forests, parks and ball fields. "The newer suburbs are designed with cars in mind."
Dr. Steven J. Danish, a Virginia Commonwealth University psychologist, said children are spending more time inside because of, among other things, affluence - more household TVs, often including sets in children's rooms - and the explosion of the Internet and e-mail.
At the least, Danish said, children who stay inside miss out on personally discovering the wonder of nature. "It's part of growing up that you're missing, and I think it's an important part."
But Danish fears far worse consequences. Spending too much time before a TV or computer screen could hinder the growth of leadership, communication and other skills honed in part by outdoor play.
"I think personal growth occurs when you have a chance to fully explore your surroundings. If you are not having that chance, you are missing out on part of what makes you a whole person."
From the time David Whitehurst was 11, he spent his spare hours hunting, fishing and exploring with his big collie, Prince, in the woods just outside his home in small Smithfield, N.C.
Whitehurst, 52, said those experiences "led to a lifelong pursuit of conservation." Today, he is director of wildlife diversity for the state Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
Whitehurst fears children today don't get to wander like that, or find their lives too booked to while away the hours spying on birds and turtles.
On one hand, Whitehurst senses a "return to nature going on," with people visiting parks and showing interest in projects like Virginia's planned Birding and Wildlife Trail.
But that interest comes mainly from adults, perhaps because "they can drive to these places, and kids can't," Whitehurst said.
"From my experience, people's interest in wildlife is normally piqued at an early age, and if it's not piqued at an early age, it's much more difficult for them to develop that interest later."
Carol A. Heiser, the game department's habitat education coordinator, said the rise of single parents or two working parents often means there is no adult to take the child outside.
Children will often stay glued to a computer screen, Heiser said,"unless an adult physically intervenes and says, `We're going to put these down, and we are going to go outside.'"
Adults and children need to make time for nature, Heiser said.
"Like right now, I notice the red maples are starting to burst their buds. Oh, that's so pretty. How many people really notice that?"
Children also seem to be doing less star-gazing, said Ken Wilson, an astronomer with the Science Museum of Virginia.
In addition to the usual suspects - television and computers - Wilson blames a de-emphasis on astronomy in schools, and excess lighting that washes out most stars.
"Light pollution has increasingly cut off children from their heritage of a dark, star-filled night sky. If you never get to see the stars, why would a kid ever develop an interest in them?"
Certainly it is unfair to paint all children as nature know- nothings. Sallie Ellett, 4 1/2, learned to identify James River animals on walks with her parents, who live a block from the river in South Richmond.
Children can discover nature in a space as small as a Fan District garden, said Sallie's mother, Ruth Modlin Ellett. "You can do it anywhere. Just take them outside. You might spark a lifelong curiosity."
On a recent night, Sallie and her father, Scott, searched for mating salamanders in a small pond near the Pony Pasture.
Sallie squealed with excitement when she saw several of the cigar- size amphibians illuminated by flashlight.
"Do you want to come listen to the sound of the river?" she asked a companion. "It's really pretty."
Sallie walked across Riverside Drive to the James. "Be very quiet," she said, "and you can hear the water."
Dark forms in the river began honking. "Canada geese!" Sallie cried.
Witnessing this, you got the impression Sallie wanted to be outside on this cool, damp night instead of sitting in front of a TV. You got the impression she would retain a love for ponds and rivers wherever life took her.
And you couldn't help noticing, as thousands of children occupied themselves inside their houses, that nature's youthful audience on this fascinating night amounted to one little girl.
|Re: Losing Out On Nature|
|04/01/02 at 17:10:24|
|As-salaamu 'alaikum wa rahmatullah|
[quote]If kids don't develop an early link with nature, experts say, those children and the natural world will suffer.[/quote]
Couldn't agree more. While it's true that "urbanism" is on the rise, so too, are (technology-driven) distractions.
Strangers in Our Homes: TV and Our Children's Minds by Susan R. Johnson
with introduction and ending comments by Hamza Yusuf
"Blessed be He in Whose hands is Dominion; and He over all things hath Power; He Who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deed: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving; He Who created the seven heavens one above another: No want of proportion wilt thou see in the Creation of (Allah) Most Gracious. So turn thy vision again: seest thou any flaw? Again turn thy vision a second time: (thy) vision will come back to thee dull and discomfited, in a state worn out."
[Yusuf 'Ali translation of the Qur'aan 67:1-4]
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