Courtesy of a new client of mine, the National Wildlife Federation, I got a copy of Richard Louv’s book The Last Child in the Woods. The premise is, essentially, that kids these days (and all of us, really) have become disconnected from nature, and that is a contributing factor to various ills, from obesity to ADHD to depression. It also puts at risk future environmental stewardship, as most current conservation leaders can trace their beliefs to free experiences in nature. Kids get outside, yes, but it is in highly structured ways rather than in the form of free exploration. The book, which I am only halfway through at the time of this writing, offers recommendations on reversing this trend, which fundamentally focus on freeing kids to find joy outside.
What I have read has really stirred me, especially given my own small children. One of the items which struck me was that one facet of this problem – and I believe Louv is really onto something – is that kids don’t mess about in boats much anymore. One of my favorite pastimes growing up was to grab a nice rowing boat and head out into the harbor. I’d have all kinds of imaginary adventures – ocean races, explorations of foreign lands, etc. – but I really liked being out on the water. Sometimes whole bunches of us would raid my friends little island or something. I never see or hear about such things these days. I also read about the current designers and builders of classic boats, and most of them were boatyard rats of some form or built their own boat as a kid out of a shipping box or something. This kind of thing also seems lost. I thus share Louv’s fear that the kids of today and tomorrow will not have the experiences that lead them to appreciate the peace of a placid anchorage, the majesty of a heron on the shore, or the firm pull of oar / paddle on hand. They also won’t see the value in keeping a place for wooden and tradition along the shores of the world. The video game set may be drawn to the roar and speed of the plastic PWC, if they think to venture onto the water at all. That is a dreary future to contemplate.
We all need to support organizations that create the means for kids to have experiences messing about in tradition-inspired craft. More so we need to help our own children and those we contact to have free space to roam on the water and find their own joy and magic there. This is an important step in passing on the art of just messing about.
If you are interested in this topic, definitely find a copy of the book. NWF also runs the Green Hour blog, which discusses this topic.