RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—The Discovery Channel/BBC documentary Planet Earth has developed a cult following. Movies like March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth have been Oscar-winning blockbusters. And our kids have become masters of computer games that take them on hikes, send them on wild adventures, and build entire ecosystems. But in spite of all this technological nature, we are spending less time interacting with real nature and much less time outdoors than our ancestors did. Which is a shame, considering that research shows that experiencing real nature is a natural stress buster.
“Getting to the zoo, watching Animal Planet—these are all pieces of our modern experience of nature, and they encourage us to protect nature,” notes Jolina Ruckert, a doctoral candidate in developmental psychology at the University of Washington who studies the effects of nature on stress. “But we’re losing the wild experience of being out in it.” This is an especially disturbing trend for kids. “What we experience as a child is the baseline we set for what we define as nature,” she says. Some researchers have termed this increasing lack of exposure as “environmental generational amnesia.” Essentially, children who now don’t get outside much won’t, as adults, think it’s abnormal to spend all day indoors. Kids are spending so little time outdoors that they’re experiencing adverse effects such as higher rates of obesity and diabetes. To counter this trend, the National Environmental Education Foundation is teaming up with the National Audubon Society to launch a “Prescribing Nature” campaign, designed to educate pediatricians on the importance of actually prescribing outdoor time for their nature-starved patients.
Until that campaign launches, here are five easy ways to bring more nature into your family’s life: