About the Author

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of eight books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder" and "The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal.

EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity

Every child needs nature. Not just the ones with parents who appreciate nature. Not only those of a certain economic class or culture or gender or sexual identity or set of abilities. Every child.

If a child never sees the stars, never has meaningful encounters with other species, never experiences the richness of nature, what happens to that child?

In economically challenged neighborhoods, towns and rural areas, the impact of toxic dumps is well known. The evidence makes it clear that when we poison nature, we poison ourselves. But there’s a second, related threat that is less familiar. What do we know about how human beings, particularly children and their families in poor communities, are affected by the absence of nature’s intrinsic benefits?

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Research suggests that exposure to the natural world – including nearby nature in cities – helps improve human health, well-being, and intellectual capacity in ways that science is only recently beginning to understand. People need nature for healthy development. We know that.

What we don’t know enough about is the natural capacity of different ethnic or economic communities.

In The Nature Principle, I introduced the term “natural cultural capacity” to describe the strengths and capacities of different cultures to connect with nature, often in unexpected and underreported ways. The new growth of urban immigrant agriculture comes to mind – Somali community gardens in inner-city San Diego, for example; also, how Latino families often use parks as places for family gatherings, and the long-neglected history of African-American environmentalism.

Some good work has been done in these arenas (Audubon’s study on Latino attitudes, for example), but we need a much deeper understanding of both equity and capacity. Here are 12 questions to explore:

1. How do different minority or ethnic communities — urban, suburban or rural — connect to nature? What tools and traditions do these communities practice that could be encouraged – and adopted by other groups?
2. According to grandparents in minority or ethnic communities, what tools and traditions faded or were lost, but could be revived?
3. What barriers to nature experience are specific to children and young people with disabilities? Also, what nature-oriented abilities and capacities could be adapted to other communities?
4. What role do urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods play in the political support for parks and open space?
5. What is the comparative availability of nearby nature (especially natural parks) based not only on acreage, but also on such issues as crime, legal restrictions, and the quality of the built environment?
6. Which institutions and organizations do the best job reaching underserved populations; what new approaches are emerging, and where (the role of libraries, for example)?
7. How likely is it for teachers or parents to take children to nearby nature or wilderness to learn and explore? And who gets to go to camp?
8. What role does prejudice — based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability — play in the nature experience?
9. What is, or will be, the impact of the widening income gap on the nature experiences of children?
10. How will current or future cuts in education, nature-based programs and parks impact different socio-economic levels?
11. In urban, suburban and rural areas, what is the impact of repeated nature experience on developmental advantages, confidence, resilience and health benefits – and how aware are residents of the benefits?
12. In these communities, do people believe that nature experiences – the availability of them — should be considered a privilege or a human right?

Many other questions should be asked about equity and capacity. But this truth is clear: Every child needs nature.

Originally published January 26, 2012. Updated December 9, 2013

______________________

Richard Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of The Children & Nature Network, and author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” 

Help us meet our new donor challenge grant. 100 new donors by 12/31 = $10,000 grant for C&NN 

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For more on natural cultural capacity and diversity, please see:

The Fierce Urgency of Nature: A New Generation Works for the Human Right to Connect with the Natural World
New International Attention to the Forgotten Human Right
My Feet, Six Inches From the Ground: Disability, Kids and Our Connection with Nature
What a Leader Looks Like
How City Kids Will Save the Planet
All Children Need Nature Worldwide: Three Major Advances at IUCN World Congress
The Wild: An African American Environmentalist Faces Her Fear
Saving the Fields of Dreams
A Tree Grows in South Central
Occupy Nature
All Children Need Nature: Inspiration from C&NN’s Grassroots Gathering


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Comments (14)

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  1. Jay Bailey says:

    As a veteran teacher of 30 plus years and a voyageur of 4000 plus kilometres, I have to say you’re absolutely on the right track. These questions need answering just to bring awareness of how far we have pulled children away from nature; from natural balance. We need to redress our culture’s nature deficiency. We are well past the stage of “conquering the wilderness” to survive, but somehow that mindset still seems to be there in the background. “Fill the earth and subdue it” has taken on a meaning separate from that of stewardship of the earth, where we will be called to account by the owner/creator for what we have done with what he has entrusted to us. Even Jesus, when he needed to recharge and refocus, spent 40 days in “the wilderness”. What makes us think we can do without nature and still keep our priorities straight?

  2. Dokta Dawg says:

    When we use expressions like “dirt poor” and look at people living subsistance lifestyles in 3rd world countries with disdain,it is no wonder that living close to the earth, living close to nature, is looked down upon.
    Tragically in the “developing” countries, because of the status associated with modern conveniences and comforts, plastic is more valued that what mother nature has to offer. What I heard when I was poor countries that faced mass exodus from the countryside, is that “Our country is too poor to worry about the damage we are doing to the earth.” “We can not afford to create preserves.” Once I asked, “where is the bathroom?” and the reply is “todo el campo es el bano.” Sad, but true. The entire countryside was the “bathroom”- strewn with trash and filled with human excrement spreading hepatitis through the village.
    Interesting enough, when preplastic people ditched their broken clay pots and stone tools over the cliff or into their compost heaps in the fields, the practice had little detrimental effect. That is not true when they still dump trash over the wall and out the window on the roadways.
    How to we instill the ethic of value the of earth? When we think of it as “dirt cheap?”

  3. ANITHA.S says:

    Great feeling to read about the fact that every child needs nature.I am a conservation educator from the southwestern state of Kerala in India.I have been working with children from the most impoverished of coastal and tribal communities in my state.Inspite of the abject poverty and highly insecure physical and mental spaces, children talk and feel for nature.After the Tsunami what struck me was the way children from the affected coastal areas wrote about the ocean as a being whose rights had been violated by humans and the response and reaction as huge ways- they never once blamed the oceans… we have a lot to learn from the young and the only thing we can do is to listen to them and not lie to them. Thanks for the sharing

  4. Karen Kerr says:

    Sierra Club has been addressing the need for youth, specifically the under-served and at-risk population, to experience nature. Thanks to more than 50 Inner City Outings programs nation wide, hundreds of inner city children are taken camping, hiking, snorkeling, biking, kayaking, rafting, canoeing, skiing and mountain climbing. These programs are all volunteer run and depend largely on funding from local philanthropic organizations.

    Thank you for bring the “need for nature” to light. Leave no child indoors!

  5. Christina Gallegos says:

    Richard, thank you for raising the question about equity and capacity for All children. We will utilize them as Seattle frames our new EE program delivery system and trains volunteers from every neighborhood to deliver programs in every neighborhood.

    You ask difficult questions that I hope inspires more in-depth research about Environmental Education. Recent cuts to our Enviromental Learning Centers reduced our staffing by 50%, yet our objective is to reach more under-represented students in our programs.

    As we attempt to address the big question about equitable access, we must remember that when children do not see people who look or resemble them in these places, they are less likely to see themselves in these places. David Brooks address some of this in his book “Social Animal”. All children need “Character Models” to validate their sense of identity and model the opportunities that exist for them.

    I hope that others will utilize your 12 questions to engage all communities in the questions and answers.

    Sinceramente, Manita de Rio Conejos.

  6. [...] EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions About Equity & Capacity : The New Nature Movement [...]

  7. [...] EVERY CHILD NEEDS NATURE: 12 Questions about Equity & Capacity, by Richard Louv [...]

  8. Very fine post, Richard. This is, as I’ve heard said, where the rubber meets the road.

  9. Judith Hill says:

    2013, with its new change of Federal and State government in Australia, there has never been a greater need to make the natural environment available for Australian children. As mining and coal seam gas ventures explode across the landscape and land that had been formally locked away in nature reserves is opened for mining, today’s children need, more than ever,to experience the rapidly declining, unique, Australian environment. Even our wonderful natural icon, the Great Barrier Reef is being exploited for mining, with permission being given to dredge a channel through the reef to allow ore ships access to mining ports in Queensland. How can Governments entrusted by the Australian people to ensure a sustainable future be so economically driven at the expense of social well being? As a teacher for many years and the founder of the Baldivis Children’s Forest, I have seen the positive results when children are inspired by the natural environment. Congratulation, Richard Louv, you are an inspiring voice in the sea of environmental degradation. You give us hope for the future.

  10. Richard Louv says:

    Many thanks, Judith, for the kind words. And all the other kind words sent this way.

  11. Thank you for these thoughtful questions. As the chair of our local elementary school’s nature committee I am constantly trying to engage our parents and youth. The school is 57% Hispanic and 66% receive reduced lunch. We are working hard to engage all youth and your guidance is so helpful! Keep up the good fight.

  12. Sue Schlembach says:

    After reading through your 12 questions I feel compelled to work on a second phase of a recent research project where I looked at children’s access to nature in urban playgrounds. I studied the natural affordances available in several urban playgrounds–some in high and some in low income neighborhoods. It was as you might well imagine–playgrounds in poorer communities had half the nature affordances of the playgrounds in wealthier settings.
    With your permission, I would appreciate using several of your questions as starting points for interviews as part of a qualitative exploration within the above mentioned urban core area.

    Sue Schlembach

  13. Richard Louv says:

    Of course. Glad you’re doing more research.

  14. Beth Stein says:

    I work at a non-profit group called Nearby Nature in Eugene, Oregon (www.nearbynature.org). One of our main goals is to make sure that everyone, regardless where they live, how much money they make, whether or not they have a car, or what their family looks like has access to adventures in nature nearby. Our home-base is in an urban park along the Willamette River – a place that is both “wild” and right in the middle of the city. We provide lots of scholarships for both families and schools in need to attend our programs. This winter, we started another effort to get even more people connected with nature nearby. We are inviting people to make donations to our “Community Friends” initiative — through this effort people can purchase a membership to our organization which we will then grant to one of our local social service agencies. Staff at these agencies will then gift these memberships to families that would benefit from the opportunity to spend more time outdoors together. With a membership, families can attend a number of our programs for free or at a discounted rate. We are hoping this effort takes off and that local folks will help us reach out to families in our community suffering from a lack of connection with nature. Thanks for all you do!

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