Not only is there a no technology policy at camp, and an absence of the pervasive elements of modern life like TVs and riding in cars, there’s also a decided emphasis at our camp on getting out in and enjoying our natural world.
It’s our aim to have fun in nature, but also to nurture reverence for its many wonders — beautiful scenery, peaceful moments, awesome phenomenon, powerful elements, myriad creatures and fun sensations!
Just think about the many things that are natural experiences at our camp: We splash and canoe in the river, make pottery from clay, explore the woods and its inhabitants on hikes, sing together by a crackling fire, gaze upon a deep black sky lit with dazzling stars, squish our toes in mud, seek shelter from the occasional rain, breathe in the fresh morning air, picnic under the apple tree, curl under our blankets against the cool night air, and, well, I could go on and on!
At Camp Alleghany we’re one with nature during that precious time of each term and we love it.
But as naturally as it comes to us, more and more we hear news reports and magazine articles about kids (especially girls) who don’t get out in nature enough. Between being shuttled almost everywhere in a car — and moved from school, to activities, to scheduled play dates, to family functions — simple time in and with nature can get lost in the flurry.
An excellent book was written about this by Richard Louv called Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. Louv attends some ACA conferences, and was a keynote speaker this past year in Atlanta. It was amazing to hear him speak!
Now, “nature-deficit disorder” might sound like a strong term, but if we remember just how refreshing and soothing resting in a hammock under a big beautiful tree can be, or how energizing and invigorating a dip in a river is, even how we feel a little healthier with a small amount of sun exposure, it’s easy to understand that if a child seldom enjoys such pleasures, she may suffer in profound ways.
In Last Child in the Woods Louv writes,
This book explores the increasing divide between the young and the natural world, and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications of that change. It also describes the accumulating research that reveals the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child — and adult — development.
It’s a book I think every parent should read. The Amazon listing for the new edition of Louv’s book says it includes:
- 101 Things you can do to create change in your community, school, and family.
- Discussion points to inspire people of all ages to talk about the importance of nature in their lives.
- A new afterword by the author about the growing Leave No Child Inside movement.
- New and updated research confirming that direct exposure to nature is essential for the physical and emotional health of children and adults.
In an article in Orion magazine, Louv also shares some startling insights and statistics writing,
Even as children and teenagers become more aware of global threats to the environment, their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading…
Getting kids outdoors more, riding bikes, running, swimming—and, especially, experiencing nature directly—could serve as an antidote to much of what ails the young.
The physical benefits are obvious, but other benefits are more subtle and no less important. Take the development of cognitive functioning. Factoring out other variables, studies of students in California and nationwide show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math. One 2005 study by the California Department of Education found that students in outdoor science programs improved their science testing scores by 27 percent.
And the benefits go beyond test scores. According to a range of studies, children in outdoor-education settings show increases in self-esteem, problem solving, and motivation to learn…
Even without corroborating evidence or institutional help, many parents notice significant changes in their children’s stress levels and hyperactivity when they spend time outside.
What can parents do?
This kind of insight isn’t limited to dedicated researchers. The Leave No Child Inside movement has gone mainstream as parents have intuitively felt there’s something wrong with hours of TV, computers, and gaming devices after a day spent behind a desk at school and in the car for errands on weekends.
However, insight from experts does help make sense of how and why to increase your family’s outdoors time. In Aha Parenting, Dr. Laura Markham writes that kids who get sufficient time in nature are calmer, happier, healthier, more fit, better students and more creative. What an easy fix — and free — for much of what ails the modern world!
She also writes, “Your grandmother was right: Kids need fresh air and exercise. We all do. Families who find ways to be outdoors together nurture not only their bodies, but their connection to all of life — and to each other.”
I agree, and I bet you do, too.
Camp as nature sanctuary
Both Markham and Louv have a trove of advice for how to increase your bonding time as a family outdoors. But even when everyone can’t do it all together, traditional outdoors summer camps like Camp Alleghany provide the setting, the philosophy, and the commitment to a holistic natural experience for your camper.
Now that I’m raising my own child, I feel more than ever just how important it is that we keep our connection to and reverence for the natural world alive. How we treat our earth, and how we experience nature, is akin to how we treat each other and all life. Our beautiful creation inspires us, nurtures us, feeds us, awes us, and in the end, keeps us healthy while providing for our needs. That’s something no screen, movie, or joystick could ever do so wholly and completely.
So as your daughter comes to camp this year, remember back to your own childhood and know that you, too, are held and nourished by the natural world. In fact, Louv’s other books is geared a bit more toward adults. In The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age Louv urges adults to regularly make that crucial time in nature a part of every day life.
One thing is certain: reconnecting with nature will unleash happy memories, make you feel young, and inspire you. For kids it will build those experiences and memories brand new. All that from flowers, birds, trees, rivers, and mountains! Aren’t people lucky?
–Elizabeth Dawson Shreckhise, Assistant Director, Camp Alleghany for Girls