All children need nature. More people are recognizing that need — and working to restore its experience in children’s lives throughout the world.
Along that line, I have some good news to report. But first, some background on the Children & Nature Network’s (C&NN’s) international role. When Richard Louv and others of us founded the Children & Nature Network in 2006, we knew there was a significant worldwide need to reconnect people with nature—beginning most urgently with children.
Increasingly, we know that children everywhere, for a host of reasons, are more sedentary, more disproportionately using electronic media more of their time and more than they do much of anything else in waking hours, and have almost no time at all doing anything like being outdoors in nature—whether walking to school, building forts, turning over rocks, making fairy houses, climbing trees.
The evidence is clear, and growing all the time, that most children are spending little time outdoors in nature, much less exploring freely, by their own invention and direction.
We hoped to bring together a worldwide movement to reconnect children and nature, and we have worked to achieve this goal since we founded the Children & Nature Network.
As one example of our international efforts, I participated in the 2008 World Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Barcelona. Under the auspices of the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication, chaired by Keith Wheeler of the United States, I convened and moderated a panel on Nature-Deficit Disorder — with representatives from India, The Netherlands, Hungary, Mexico and the US, to talk about this worldwide phenomenon.
One result: We were able to insert language into a motion passed at the IUCN World Congress in 2008 which spoke to the importance of reconnecting children and nature—for their health and well-being and that of the Earth’s itself.
IUCN’s World Congress is held every four years. I’ve just returned from the World Congress held in Jeju, South Korea in September 2012. I traveled to Jeju with optimism that at least some additional progress would be made in support of the need for a worldwide movement to reconnect children with nature.
We knew we would be launching a new, and significant Research Summary of Children & Nature Worldwide—co-developed by the Children & Nature Network and the IUCN Commission on Education and Communication. We released the Summary in Jeju, with the attendant rationale for its importance. We also knew there would be a CEO Summit on Connecting People with Nature, with CEOs of national parks and protected areas from throughout the world along with CEOs of non-governmental organizations, including the Children & Nature Network.
And there would be a resolution presented for action by Dr. Annelies Henstra and others, building on ours of 2008 that spoke to the importance of connecting children and youth with nature and taking it to a new level—that of a child’s right to nature. Others have argued for recognition of that right, such as Robin Moore, past president of the International Association for the Child’s Right to Play, and Richard Louv. Here was a moment to bring that right into sharper focus, with longer-term implications for the United Nations.
The Research Summary was a given. We had prepared it, and planned for its launch to this worldwide audience. The next two events—the unanimous passing of the Jeju Declaration on Connecting People with Nature and the passing of the motion in support of the child’s right to nature — were accomplishments beyond my hopes, and within our dreams.
Awareness is growing. We receive emails and messages from people throughout the world who resonate with the importance of this issue. News reports about the disconnect and the need to reconnect children with nature appear in countries from India to the United Kingdom, China to Oceania. People from more than 160 nations visit the C&NN web site.
Research continues to support this worldwide view. One of the most compelling studies to help with the world wide perspective is that from Singer and colleagues; a study of children and families from 16 nations. (See Volume 4 of C&NN Summaries of Research.) Bottom line — children in developing and developed nations, from all economic backgrounds, tend to spend most time indoors, very little time outdoors in nature in free exploration, and they wish they were outdoors in nature more. Worldwide.
The societal trend coined by Richard Louv as “nature-deficit disorder” is real and not yet reversed. Shared worries about the consequences of this disconnect among people of all ages around the world are actually, in my view, a hopeful sign. We are glad that so many parents today worry about their children’s lack of time outdoors playing freely in nature. Now we need to translate that worry into easily accessible opportunities for that connection. A real connection. One that is fun, easy, nearby, and every day.
We have a tremendous amount of further work to do — as we know. But let’s take a moment to give some thanks for the incredible momentum that can now be felt from the volcanic island of Jeju, South Korea to every island and every continent on the planet.