Saturday, February 18, 2012

Going Deep

I am reading a book called Last Child in the Woods. The author's premise is that recent generations' distance from nature is having detrimental effects on everything from attention to creativity. He terms the problem Nature Deficit Disorder. With our technological and smaller world, many have access to untold information about nature and have travelled across the globe, but, he argues, our grandparents who never left their small towns, while having no idea about the rain forest, knew their own woods and prairies intimately. Today's children may know much about Global ecology and endangered animals, but they do not know nature. Parent's fears and modern day distractions deprive children of just getting out in nature in unstructured ways. Whether it was a patch of park in New York City or a tree in the suburbs or a creek in a small town, past generations had opportunities to unite with nature in free, unstructured ways.

I feel his premise is just another aspect of the idea that has been forming in my head for awhile. Our children have too many distractions. There are things which are objectively better than others, and given the opportunity, children recognize these things. They know that visiting a nursing home is better than going to the swimming pool. Playing a game of capture the flag is better than Special Ops X box. Making up an imaginary world for one's action figures beats watching a movie. They will not choose the better portion, at least not most kids, but after the fact, if asked, they recognize it.

Being out doors is certainly the perfect setting for eliminating distractions. There is so much to contemplate out doors that is worthy of our time. However, I think there is also much to contemplate indoors. We simply do not allow our children the time to just go deep.

Whether it is sitting with a book that is not so simple that it requires no thought, in order to think about what the heck the author is trying to say... Or looking at a beautiful painting and imagining what the artist was thinking while he painted it... Or listening to beautiful music and being in awe of the genius of, say, a Mozart... Or climbing a tree and imaging one's self in a pagoda in China...Or looking for a secret door in the honey suckle...Or listening to the repetitive chirp of a bird and trying to figure out the code.

And to hear that chirp and realize that the bird sees the cat and is sending out the warning signal to his fellow birds is better than any High Score. Recognizing a song and knowing it is Mozart is better than any rerun of Phinias and Ferb. Knowing you are right that the artist was listening to a thunder storm as he painted or imaging that you found the secret door or that you are in China is the stuff that childhood should be made of.

Every generation looks at the current one and longs for the "good old days." I don't think there is such a thing. Every generation had problems and every generation had gifts. I have no desire to go back to an age of card catalogues and paying for long distance. I think my parents had to make the same choices I have to make: How to provide the opportunity for our children to experience the pure joy of childhood. They had different obstacles to overcome than we. But it comes down to deciding if that is what you want.

Like Last Child in the Woods, there are numerous books out there telling us what the problem is. I think the solution is simply to remove the distractions. Give your kids the opportunity to go deep in to something, anything, rather than skate along the surface.

*So far, Last Child in the Woods is a great book worth reading.

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