The Nature Principle: Experience the Earth Beyond Instagram

April 22, 2013 Earth Day

“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”-Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and founder of Children and Nature Network, Let’s G.O. (Get Outside)

Sun-kissed from a weekend hiking Mt. Diablo with five hard core naturalists who didn’t even flinch when we encountered a three-foot rattler crossing our path, it dawned on me that these video-game industry pros I was with single-handedly debunk a gazillion stereotypes about cubicle creatives and geek-speaking digital junkies swigging Mountain Dew in dark rooms of cathode tubes…

They refreshingly bash the ‘either/or’ fixations of screentime vs stewardship when it comes to environmental wellness and nurturing nature from within, as one is an avid wildlife tracker and flower identifier and another is a birder.

The juxtaposition of a “videogaming naturalist” is a beautiful springboard for critical thinking on media literacy and profiling, as these guys are not just dabblers reciting factoids like a human Audubon Field Guide app, they’re emotionally invested knowledge fountains with not just the ‘whats’ but the ‘hows’…complete with “This is Your Brain on Nature” science studies.

They were also noticeably disturbed on the hike to observe in this state park of close to 20,000 acres there was a glaring absence of children…

They were not at the picnic tables, streams, interpretive center, nor on the trail itself. Nada. Zip.

We never passed ONE child, not even a teen, and the youngest people on the trail were power-fitness millennial mountain bikers; it turned into an ‘I spy with my eye’ game of Where’s Waldo, hunting for children and families outside enjoying the Earth.

Granted, it was a very hot day, and there was a colossal free Earth Day celebration in San Francisco brimming with sustainability entertainment (the Bay area green scene is made up of ‘Type A’ recreation enthusiasts that see Earth Day as a lifestyle and the festivals as more of a hub for outreach, reunions, and any good excuse for a green gathering) but I had to poke the hornet’s nest inquiry hanging thick in the air of the media conversation and nudge…

“Sooooo…um…do you think the kids are all inside playing videogames?” 

As avid fans of Richard Louv who wrote Last Child in the Woods, and most recently, the Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age we ALL quickly veered into the “where do the children play” conversation talking about how the outdoors shaped their lives and even their video-game careers as engineers and creative designers inspired by endless hours of childhood imaginative role play, creating characters out of vapor and plotlines on the fly.

As storytelling about childhood fort-building, exploring, critter compassion from insects to geckos tumbled forth (one was even a beekeeper) the common thread continued to be immersion in open-ended play in nature…outdoors.

Needless to say, the next mile as we huffed and puffed up the summit was lively…wrapping our heads around ethics, parenting, videogames and apps, internet addictions, how to turn people ‘green,’ ways to get kids outside and bridge online videogames to offline interests even merging the role of videogames and apps like Tilt World to elevate and escalate eco-concerns

We compared observations and empirical hunches; asked questions about the social media ‘virtual stage’ and pondered things like “Are Teens REALLY Going Green?” or are they snapping photos of eco-coolness and Earth Day events to share on Instagram?

It was a great time, uncorking some rip-roaring mythbusting and critical thinking about media hype as well as finessing the differences between eco-education and eco-engagement hands-on…

How accurate is the media narrative and research about millennials leading the eco movement with prosocial, ‘change the world’ awareness when many of us are seeing more ‘clicktivism’ over action?

Has there been a “movement of the eco-movement” indoors, vanishing into political spheres rather than grassroots in the field? This New Yorker article “When the Earth Moved” tosses that one into the daily mental floss…

What about the hope and promise of   “Gen Z” as this uplifting post from our friends at KooDooZ cites, with the next generational shift from eco-worriers to eco-warriors?

As the offspring of eco-minded parents in ‘crunchy’ green fair-trade households are hailed as the keepers of the vision blending awareness into action, will we see kids get outside for their own personal enjoyment more?

Will families clamp the digital IV drip periodically to show and tell the joys of nature to this upcoming generation? Will “eco-therapy” become normative for cognitive functioning as a way to de-stress from media management?

I’m hoping with more families mindfully reprioritizing the merits of experiencing the divebomb whirrrr of a hummingbird zooming past or the jackhammer woodpecker sound echoing through a forest FIRSTHAND in nature, (not just through an audio ipad app version) that we can start to achieve a win-win balance of seeding the future by inspiring kids as eco-stewards of the planet… 

No secret there are benefits to nature respites, and NIH studies show the more immersed we are in heavy digital culture, the more time away from it we NEED as a counter-lever to “play, serve, and celebrate”  the Earth, as the Children and Nature Network “Let’s G.O.” theme this April implores.

Kids can learn a great deal about Earth Day online, but actually experiencing nature is a tactile hands-on 3D experience…The ultimate ‘reality show’ in IMAX surround sound.

Stewards of the Earth need seeded as students of the Earth, first…

Let’s G.O. (get outside) so kids can begin to discover what it is they’re supposed to be protecting! If children don’t have any ‘skin in the game’ so to speak, it’s a topsoil approach to preservation of the planet rather than the deepest, inter-connected roots we need to truly take the role of stewardship. 

As Earth Day 2013 celebration makes it’s 43rd trip around the sun, let’s give kids context for their touchpoints, reality checks through the power of play, just as my videogame hiker friends received in their generation.

I also strongly feel children deserve the right to be educated with positive potential rather than parroting doom and gloom which leads to a giveupitis ‘game over’ mentality, so let’s guide children to experience the luscious joys of “real” before they segue to “virtual” …

Let’s G.O. “get outside” to creatively embrace imaginative worlds of free play so minds can flourish with possibility over productization…blue sky thinking over niche box-branding.

Let’s G.O. pick some blackberries. (not the mobile kind) And picnic with a backpack full of apples. (not the digital ones)…

And if you’re really inspired to get to know the Earth again, try to “G.O.” Screen Free for a week coming up April 29-May 5 2013 and begin to understand that what’s lost when disconnecting with nature can be found and nourished anew.

Headed outside now for an Earth Day respite…You? What are your plans?

A Few Related Eco/Green Media Posts by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

(Don’t miss: children/YA books from around the world “EnvironmentaLISTS”for Green Reading and A Mighty Girl/Top Childrens Books on the Environment, and a variety of eco-friendly picks at Reach and Teach.com

School Gardens Grow Healthier Kids: Seeding Green w/Richard Louv

Farmer’s Markets Go Digital: Find Healthy Food Near YOU

Dreaming Up: Christy Hale, Our School Garden and the Power of Play

P.A.C.K. Week: Pack Assorted Colors for Kids

A Fresh Approach to School Lunch Programs

Get Greens For Your School

Media Netiquette + Some Great Nature Apps for Kids

Tilt World: Nicole Lazzaro: Eco/Emotion Into Game Play

Trekaroo: Kid-Friendly Travel/Playgrounds +Finds on the Fly

My Daddy Taught Me To Surf (portion benefits Surfrider Fnd)

My Mommy Taught Me To Surf

Disney Nature: Chimpanzee Benefits Jane Goodall’s Work

How To Turn People Green

Inspiring Kids As Stewards of the Planet

Inspiring Kids With Green Media

Get ‘Em Outside!

The Great Turtle Race

When Art Meets Earth: Wyland’s Murals Inspire Kids to Care

350.org: Edu & Eco Activism for Int’l Climate Change

Kids Bring Home the Message to Cool the Earth

Spring Break Sanctuary 2010 Media Unplugged on Catalina

Hope Is On The Horizon When Movements Go Mainstream

Green Teen Videos On Climate Change: Global Challenge

Climate Change Chocolate, TerraPass E-Cause Animation…

Teen Scene: Eco-Concerts

Coen Brothers Ad For Clean Coal Air Freshener (kids faves!)

Disney Nature’s EARTH movie: Our Teen Team’s Take

International Day of Peace to Reach and Teach

Green Grades Report Cards: Forest Ethics

One Teen’s View: Use Eco As An Equalizer

Project Green Dorm: Engaging Youth Via Teens Turning Green

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

Nature Rocks: Reconnecting Families with Planet Earth!

Shaping Youth Joins Eco-Literacy Coalition: NCLI

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

The Nature of Tweens: Wired Worlds & Outdoor Ed

Shaping Youth Through Nature, Media Unplugged

Kids Plant Virtual Trees to Benefit REAL Trees in Dizzywood

Get Kids to Eat Green: Using Shrek Against His Drek

Seeding Virtual Worlds: Kids Going Green in Dizzywood

Nim’s Island: Shaping Youth Through Imagination & Adventure

When Green Gets Jaded: Marketing Hope to Kids

Can Somethin’ Be Done About All This Consumption?

Earth Hour & Kids +Virtual Walk for Water

Kids’ Gardening, Spring Break & the Seinfeld Equinox

If Kids Could Be Dolphins: The Power of Creative Play

Greentrepreneurs: Recycle Bank Shows Kids it Pays to Be Green

What’s A Kids Party Without Piles of Presents? EchoAge

Shaping Youth in Semi-Finals For Echoing Green Fellowship

S.F. Oil Spill Prompts Altruism & Activism in Kids

New Media Worldometers Help Data Click With Kids

Eco-Friendly Electronics, Go Green With Your Wired World

The 11th Hour: Leonardo DiCaprio’s New Documentary

5th International Symposium/Youth Collaboratory: Digital Earth

Green Media & Electric Cars: New Energy Shaping Youth

Care2 Make A Difference? Social Media/Kids

Digital Activism: Kids Stump for Change (World Wildlife Fund)

Youth Atwitter On LiveEarth Concert 7-07-07

Marketing Mindfulness to Kids

Planting Earthseeds Via The Magic School Bus

A few FREE nature apps via Wilderness.org  and NWF.org

WildObs Observer

Project NOAH

SciSpy

iNaturalist

What’s Invasive

What’s nearby? Trailhead by The North Face Oh, Ranger! Parkfinder  NatureFind

Identifying:  TreeBook  Leafsnap   iBird Lite  WildLab

Recording/Observing: CreekWatch  Nature’s Notebook

Green Media: A Few Fun & Games: Eco Interactives Kids Love

Animal Jam: Virtual World for Kids by National Geographic (story to come)

Name That Greenwashing Sin (Game for eco-literacy!)

Seussville Lorax: Interactive Save the Trees Game

Heal the Bay Interactive to ‘Trash Your Friends,’ Learn About Marine Life

The Great Turtle Race (Game/Nat’l Geo Kids)

Meet the Greens, (pbskids games/activities/interactives)

GreenMyParents.com

Habitat Heroes.com

EcoBuddies.com (ages 6-13 virtual world) & Earth Day blog

PlanIt Green (Nat’l Geo games)

Save My Planet $500 Challenge BKFK: By Kids For Kids

KidsRgreen.org (puzzles/games CEE)

Nature Rocks: Reconnecting Families w/Planet Earth!

Migratory Max:  Wilderness Society

Inconvenient Youth.org (Cool People Care)

UNEP interactives for kids

Earth Day  Crafts/Printables (Kaboose)

Discover The Forest.org (interactive site; getting tweens into nature)

Climate Kids: NASA’s Eye on the Earth (big questions) AND Kids’ Games

Shaping Youth: Kid-Vid & Media Games Galore (+How Stuff Works/eco)

In honor of the great work of Rich Louv who I’ll hopefully interview with a follow up story here soon, I’m reprising one of my earliest pieces I wrote here about Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder for Earth Day 2013. Enjoy!

Media Savvy Kids and Nature Deficit Disorder, by Amy Jussel, Shaping Youth

butterfly.jpgYoung kids may be getting media savvy earlier, but many have never seen a campfire or been on a hiking trail, and wouldn’t know a wilderness experience if it bit ‘em on the backside.

In fact, a British study akin to the ‘Ronald McDonald vs. the President’ face recognition phenom where kids could name the clown but not the nation’s leader found that 8-year-olds could identify Pokémon characters far more easily than they could name “otter, beetle, and oak tree.”

Even if you get them in the wilderness, some truly don’t know how to deal. Research is bearing this out…

Last Child in the Woods author Richard Louv talks of kids’ “nature deficit disorder” and I’m inclined to hike into his camp with full footed surety.

It’s amazed me repeatedly, whether teaching wildlife to brownie troops or asking first graders to sit still and hush in a grass field for only two minutes to observe the world around them coming alive.

They just can’t do it. They squirm and shift from boredom. They interrupt the silence. Want immediate gratification. Start whining, “I don’t see anything” as you shush them to point out the ant, the water droplet on the blade of grass, the breeze blowing the ladybug’s wings…

It’s as if their eyes don’t see anymore. Their ears don’t know how to pick up the frequency of the calm. The more urban and wired they become the more deaf and blind they are to the pleasures of pristine experiences.

Sure, emerging technology offers new tools and ways to interpret the world…but we need to “turn down the media volume” enough to understand what we’re LOSING as well as gaining.

Louv speaks of our “growing addiction to electronic media, the relinquishment of green spaces to development, parents’ exaggerated fears of natural and human predators, and also of nature providing powerful therapy for such maladies as depression, obesity, and ADD.”

Granted, Roosevelt got on this bandwagon first, but Louv adds new studies on the restorative qualities and positive benefits that media-hyped Millenials should NOT ignore. (just look at the Summer Search success I blogged about earlier, and what it did for the high schoolers who had never been exposed!)

Arguably, if you don’t expose kids early on, media prevalence will only increase in tween years and beyond, as the British study reiterated, “During their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokémon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50 per cent of common wildlife species.”

My tween daughter’s lucky enough to live on a funky island building tree forts, catching jacksmelt, wandering freely and playing in the muddy muck of the coastal shoreline, yet only minutes away from the City’s urban delights.

She’s outdoors with her posse of island pals constantly…But that’s RARE, for none of her suburban school peers are!

They shuttle to nonstop activities and live amidst manicured lawns and square fenced plots. They’re wired with the latest gizmos and are more apt to get their environmental education via science project or a roundup resource than a hike on a dirty trail.

Media’s great and kids love it, but children need to be in nature early and often. It’s integral for them to figure out how everything smushes together and one thing impacts another. From ecosystems and rainforests to famine, war, poverty, and pollution, children are unable to grok the whole ‘one world’ picture until we spell it out for them.

Sure, some kids will prefer indoor media to outdoor pleasures, but unless we make it our duty to expose them to the wonders of nature, there’s little hope they’ll ever give a flying fig.

We don’t protect what we don’t know, and that applies to the extinction of a species, a natural resource, or an entire culture.

Ironically, interactive info offers inspiring ideas, games, puzzles and clubs to get kids jazzed about being outdoors!

Here are a few positive picks of online & offline media to get kids to ‘take a hike’:

Print Media:

Sharing Nature with Children: An age-gauged book of fun ideas that engage kids in an eco-revealing way without the preach and teach banter. Perfect to toss in the glove box for an impromptu outdoor adventure, whether it’s the ‘web of life’ game or a scavenger hunt in a forest or a park, it details what you need, how many kids and which age it suits. It has a sequel that’s great too.

And here are a couple more that I like: Nature in a Nutshell for Kids: Over 100 Activities You Can Do in Ten Minutes or Less

Kids Camp! Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness

Online Media:

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: This site has a wonderful round-up of a gazillion links and resources from online games and quizzes to conservation, animal/eco-friendly fun, and solid waste/gross out science, almost all geared to “tweens” 9-14.

The Green Dollhouse Project: Kids learn about sustainable building through energy efficiency, nontoxic materials, water conservation, and more. This one site is a portal of useful links to renown entities like the Rocky Mountain Institute where kids can explore the art of eco-design, ‘going green,’ and ‘living off the grid.’

Whole Foods for Kids, Healthy Snack Alternatives: Backpack with some decent chow, learn some basics on berry-picking, (what they look like and what to eat in the wild) & discover leaves, herbs and edibles found in nature for wilderness survival.

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