Mar 8th, 2009

No Child Left Inside: Restoring Nature to Early Childhood

Recently, I’ve been spending alot of time getting the word out about Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s next symposium — No Child Left Inside: Restoring Nature to Early Childhood (April 28-29). This is a topic that is really interesting to me,  and I think it has piqued alot of people’s interest since congress approved the No Child Left Inside Act of 2008,  so that children would have more opportunities to experience nature and the outdoors.

I’m one of those kids that was raised by a nature-lover. Every year my mom would come to my school and take the  kids in my class on a field trip — a walk through the woods directly outside our school.   We’d stop and identify different types of trees, look at the Jack-in-the-pulpits, and just explore.  I’m not sure why our regular teacher didn’t do this or why It wasn’t part of the curriculum, but for my mom, it was the way she gave back to our school, and she loved it.   At home, our house backed up to a huge woods and creek and I spent many of my childhood days exploring there.

And then there are the stories my mom never tired of telling about how when she was gardening I would hide her pruning shears from her as a joke  — when I was 3. Or how when I was a baby it was not uncommon for her to find dirt from her gardening projects  in my diaper because we spent to much time outside in the yard playing in the dirt.

But as a parent myself, feeling comfortable letting my kids explore nature has not come as easily. Our lives  are more scheduled, we live in a more urban environment, and there is always something else competing for the time we spend outdoors in nature.   Add to that my children’s aversion to mosquitoes and poison ivy and my concerns about safety you get what I call the “easy way out” — pretending that making the effort to go outdoors and stay outdoors long enough to explore and really fall in love with it  is just not that important.   But it is. And recently, while researching this symposium, I’ve become convinced that getting my kids outdoors and making time for it is the ONLY hard part.  Once we get out there, everything is easy — because children have a knack for loving nature, If you just give them a chance, their natural curiosity takes over. Their imaginations come alive and they are full of life and questions about what they see in the natural world. My kids can spend countless hours outside creating a habitat for caterpillars or making a fort out of sticks.

Plus, studies show that children who are exposed to nature at a young age have less stress, better concentration, more creativity and higher self esteem — all things you want for you child.  I’ve even heard that exposure to nature connects to children and teenagers being able to delay gratification.  By watching trees grow and flowers bloom, children learn that beautiful things take time and are worth the wait.

The Children & Nature Network and Richard Louv have brought the importance of this issue to attention of many of today’s parents, by pointing out that this cultural shift of kids not playing in nature is here already and its affects can be damaging if we don’t fight to counter-balance with outdoor freeplay and nature time.  While experts are saying that free play in nature can help combat depression, attention deficit disorder and depression in children — I would argue that it can be equally as effective helping adults as well.

I’m very much looking forward to our speaker’s presentations.
Jane Kirkland, author of the award-winning children’s nature series, Take a Walk books , Robin Moore, Director of the Natural Learning Initiative and Professor of Landscape Architecture, North Carolina State University, and Yusuf Burgess, environmental educator, State of New York Department of Environmental Conservation and board member, Children & Nature Network.

The No Child Left Inside movement is taking off across the countryLewis Ginter Botanical Garden is not the only group in Richmond that has realized the impact of this movement. On Tuesday, March 11th, at 7 p.m. the Sierra Club of Richmond will host Bill Portlock, from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to speak on CBF’s No Child Left Inside efforts.

In the end, It didn’t take much to convince me to re-prioritize nature as a priority in my children’s life (and in my own). I’ve known all along it was a good thing, but sometimes it just takes some hard facts and numbers to convince me of what my children have known all along. That nature can be a powerful influence and healing force.

And you can bet that I will be at the hands-on family, Homespun Fun for Families with my kids to get some more great ideas about how to further incorporate nature into my children’s lives.

Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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