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The world once offered children the thousands of delights of the natural world. Children used to have free access to the outside world of wild nature, whether in the vacant lots and parks of urban areas or the fields, forests, streams of suburbia and rural areas. Children could explore and interact with the natural world with little or no restrictions or supervision. Nature-based childhood used to be the natural condition. (Rivkin 1990; Pyle 2002; Moore 2004; Louv 2005; Tai, Haque, et al 2006). (Randy White & Vicki L. Stoecklin)
The lives of children today are much more structured, supervised and scheduled with few opportunities to explore and interact with the natural outdoor environment. Children's physical boundaries have shrunk. Childhood and regular unsupervised play in the outdoor natural world are no longer synonymous (Francis 1991; Pyle 1993 & 2002; Moore & Wong 1997; Kellert 2002; Kuo 2003; Brooks 2004; Kyttä 2004; ). Today, most children live what one play authority has referred to as a childhood of imprisonment (Francis 1991). Children are disconnected from the natural world outside their doors. Louv (2005) calls children's condition today nature-deficit disorder. (Randy White & Vicki L. Stoecklin)
"The citizens of the industrial world suffer form a collective ecological blindness that reduces their collective sense of 'connectedness' with the ecosystems that sustain them" (Wackernagel & Rees 1996: 132). Wackernagel and William Rees The Ecological Footprint. New Society Publishers1996
"Respect for, and the preservation of, other species and ecosystems for their intrinsic and spiritual values would automatically ensure human ecological security" (Wackernagel and William Rees The Ecological Footprint. New Society Publishers1996.:38).
THE PROBLEM with modern society
Louv points out that our human brains were set up for an agrarian, nature-oriented existence that came into focus five thousand years ago. "Neurologically, human beings haven't caught up with today's over stimulating environment." P101 Modern life has narrowed our senses until our focus has become mostly visual. Thus we are suffering many ailments of sensory overload and fail to work those sensory systems that may be available to us that can help us become more connected.
(louv) children are claiming boredom in this over-stimulated environment. Interestingly, Patricia Spacks found that in medieval times, boredom was "a form of spiritual alienation, a devaluing of world and its creator." P166 She pointed out the need for distinction in today's world between constructively bored mind and a negatively numbed or over-stimulated mind.
Without deep attachment to place, both child and adult can feel disconnected or lost. Louv continues In rapidly changing, moving and developing societies, attachment often fails to
be created. Rapidly changing environments degrade our sense of place and influence
general quality of family relationships. P. 156
The opportunity to experience sensory rich and joyful play outdoors is severely limited for many children growing up today.
Louv uses the example of 9 year old Paul from San Diego to illustrate how play patterns are changing, quoting Paul as saying "I like to play inside better as that's where all the electrical sockets are"
Louv accertains that although children still notice the little things, such as trees changing colour, sunsets and flowers emerging, they are inherently distracted -they have headphones on for example when they are ski-ing showing how they cannot enjoy the sounds of nature and being out in it alone.
Probably no society has been so deeply alienated as ours from the
community of nature, has viewed the natural world from a greater distance of mind,
has lapsed to a murkier comprehension of its connections with the sustaining environ-
ment. Because of this, we are greatly disadvantaged in our efforts to understand the
basic human afï¬nity for nonhuman life. Here again, I believe it's essential that we
learn from traditional societies, especially those in which most people experience
daily and intimate contact with land. . . . (1993, pp. 202-203)kellert??
That said, research by Nabhan and St. Antoine (1993, see also Nabhan
and Trimble, 1994, chap. 5) provides supporting evidence. Nabhan and St.
Antoine investigated responses to the natural world across two groups of
UtoAztecan cultures along the U.S. / Mexico desert borderlands: the O'odham
and the Yaqui. Within each culture, they compared responses between
''tribal elders, who have engaged in considerable hunting and gathering ac-
tivities during their lifetimes, with those of their grandchildren who have
grown up fully exposed to television, prepackaged foods, and other trappings
of modern life'' (p. 230). By holding constant the genetic lineages, their
study provides a means to assess the place of cultural and environmental
inï¬‚uences on the expression of biophilia.
Based on a variety of measures, Nabhan and St. Antoine found that the
O'odham and Yaqui children's knowledge of, interest in, and appreciation
for their natural world was strikingly at odds with that of their grandparents.
For example, despite access to open spaces, the majority of the O'odham
and Yaqui children had never spent more than half an hour alone in a wild
place. Television provided children with more exposure to wild animals than
did their natural surroundings. And large percentages of children did not
know basic facts of desert life: that it is possible, for example, to eat the
fruit of the prickly pear cactus -a major food source in their lands for more
than 8000 years. within one or two generations seemingly deep and pervasive
afï¬liations of the O'odham and Yaqui with nature have been considerably
extinguished. perhaps Diamond is correct after all; perhaps the genetic
basis of biophilia is smaller than initially proposed by Wilson, and more
needs to be said about culture, experience, and learning.
Western society's common metaphors, it is said, no longer derive from the natural world (Merchant 1982). This paradoxical state of affairs might simply be a curiosity were it not for our current environmental crisis.
Merchant, Carolyn. The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology, and the Scientific Revolution. New York: Harper and Row, 1982 .
Once I kept a diary observing a mother cat and her kittens. I found the mother cat's behaviour so striking because so very similar to human maternal behaviour. I wrote down: "How human this cat mother is!" Only later did I realize I had put the emphasis in the wrong place. it was not how human this cat family was but rather how catlike human families are: in other words, howsimilar both species were when it came to maternal behaviour. i.e. how similar are human and other mammalian behaviours. The original inversion was an example of how we tend to mute the animal in human beings.
Orr. Our crisis is not fundamentally one of technology; it is one of mind, will and spirit. Orr, David W. "Love it or Lose it: The Coming Biophilia Revolution." In Kellert
and Wilson, Eds. The Biophilia Hypothesis , 1993, 415-440.
Decline in freedom to play out doors: Areas children have to play have shrunk to a ninth of what it as in 70s. Traffic makes unsafe. In Robin Moore's 1986 study, majority of specific places he talked about (streets, parks, waste ground, open spaces) have disappeared today.
Culture of fear: Anxiety for children's safety, parental anxiety, 'stranger danger'. Huge fear of abduction..yet paradoxically, children have never been safer! This places them at greater risk of accident or abuse with-in the home.
Over-organised lives: Most of time children are either in school, nursery or childcare. Lives increasingly instsitutionalised. Out of school care closely monitored by adults and organized and structured activities replacing free play. Playtime has been shortened due to behaviour problems and a centralized curriculum. "Wrapped around play" play shaped and directed by adults and becomes 'wrapped' around a focused learning objective. Walking to school has decreased: 1971-80% of children did, 1990- down to 10%. Cars have opened up opportunity to see new spaces, BUT at the same time, separates their passengers from the outside world. -growing trend for seat back entertainment means kids don't engage with world outside the window.
Intolerance of children's play: complaints from residents, gives examples of nurseries been closed down etc. Argues children have always caused noise complaints, recorded in 19th century for example but now, play in contemporary urban areas has largely disappeared from residential streets.
'Out of place': children seem to have disappeared in the urban landscape 'just like the skylark, have become endangered'. Youwill see more dogs and dog owners in communal/green areas than children! Children playing unsupervised outside are deemed a potential nuisance/criminals and the parents perceived as irresponsible.
Virtual Spaces: less amount of real space but more (and infinite) virtual space. TV & electronic games.Real world excitement, adventure and risk have been replaced by their electronic equivalents. Negative aspects of virtual: only 2D, limited sensory feedback, solitary, takes away from time spent with people, things and new experiences.
Health: Massive increase in childhood obesity. Solution= make children more active, less sedentary! Problem= leisure and fitness is 'taught' in a didactic way. Where as exploration and play is what motivates kids to move around, not 'keeping fit'
Where do children play?: public play spaces for children have declined to shopping malls, pubs, restaurants, leisure centres, theme parks.. etc These places usually offer some kind of replacement in the form of 'soft play' recreation areas that give a standardized, commercially focused and adult centred view of play. -Artificial, lack of natural materials and opportunity to experience nature.
some of the blame also towards parents who used to spend a lot of time out doors, talking to neighbours on the porch and such, and how these days although parents may be joining health clubs, they do not know their local community, both environmentally or socially.
Louv highlights how in the space of a century, Americans have dramatically altered their experience of nature. He sums up current situation as a result of five trends;
a severance of public and private mind from our food origins
a disappearing line between machines, humans and other animals
increasedintellectual understanding of our relationship with other animals
invasion of our cities by wild animals
rise of a new kind of suburban form -what is urban and what is natural?
NATURE IS PRESENT IN THE CITY
And yet the city teems with animal and vegetable life. Flora and fauna in innumerable forms reproduce their species in every available crevice of the concrete jungle. Wildflowers bloom in abandoned lots. Domestic gardens attract earthworms, butterflies and countless insect species. Unmanaged landfills erupt into biodiversity. Many animal species are drawn to the city because of the cityscape itself, with its abundance of food sources and enhanced range of nesting territories. Raccoons, rats and other scavengers seek out household garbage cans, fast-food waste bins, city dumps, Bats and sparrows take to house attics, pigeons to apartment balconies, hawks to skyscraper ledges. Warm concrete and asphalt lure reptiles. Urban parks, gardens and cemeteries all support a wealth of wildlife (Grady 1995). (SABLOFF PDF 2008)
((On Absence Of Nature In The City beingAn Urban Myth :SABLOFF 08
It appears, then, that the absence of nature in the city is an urban myth. What we can recognize, on the contrary, is a strong current of biophilic practice-practice motivated by an intense interest in and attraction to other life forms (Wilson 1984)-that seems to be an integral part of western urban society. Yet this biophilia tends to be muted in urban society and is mostly unnamed as a motivating force.
People, it seems, are disinclined to recognize any urban being, human or nonhuman, as natural. One person mused: "If you did away with all the animals in the city, you would be missing something, but you'd be hard-pressed to say what it is."
"What appears to have been lost is our totemic imagination, that is, our ability collectively to envision, name and experience the world as natural beings-in-habitat, as animals sharing the world in complex reciprocal relationships with other living beings." we are suffering as a direct result of the way in which we in the West have constructed nature as a cultural system.
"It was divine nature which gave us the country, and man's skill that built the cities," wrote the Roman scholar Varro (in Rybscynski 1996:36), expressing a point of view that remains robust in the West today. Cities are believed by many to be among humankind's greatest achievements, for the built environment symbolizes human ingenuity, accomplishment, wealth. Basic to these observations is an assumption that the city and the country are fundamentally opposed entities. This understanding of country and city, nature and art, as separate worlds, and the related emphasis on difference rather than connection between them, have fostered a conviction that human beings could actually build a world separate from nature. And, indeed, in modern Western thought cities are frequently envisioned as unmoored, isolated from countryside and nature, and self-sufficient.
"At what moment, exactly," asks William Cronon (1991:18), "did the city of Chicago cease to be part of nature?" (Sabloff)))
"stress reduction, greater physical health, a deeper sense of spirit, more creativity, a
sense of play, even a safer life-these are the rewards that await a family when it
invites more nature into their childrens' lives." P. 161 louv
Kellert (1996) writes, ''need to rekindle their capacity
for experiencingwonder, inspiration,andjoyfrom contact with the natural
world'' (p. 209).