Thomas Berry, the great cultural historian and writer, wrote in his book Befriending the Earth: “We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars.”
Berry’s statement is more true than ever, especially in a time when it is so important for humans to connect to their natural world.
The way kids are brought up to talk about nature influences what is important to them. The recent publication of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, which limits its word count to 10,000, symbolizes a disconnection with nature.
Here are some of the words removed from the most recent version: monarch, holly, ivy, mistletoe, dwarf, elf, goblin, adder, ass, beaver, boar, budgerigar, bullock, cheetah, colt, corgi, cygnet, doe, drake, ferret, gerbil, goldfish, guinea pig, hamster, heron, herring, kingfisher, lark, leopard, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, newt, otter, ox, oyster, panther, pelican, piglet, plaice, poodle, porcupine, porpoise, raven, spaniel, starling, stoat, stork, terrapin, thrush, weasel, wren, acorn, corn, allotment, almond, apricot, ash, bacon, beech, beetroot, blackberry, blacksmith, bloom, bluebell, bramble, bran, bray, bridle, brook, buttercup.
Are you detecting a theme?
The list goes on: canary, canter, carnation, catkin, cauliflower, chestnut, clover, conker, county, cowslip, crocus, dandelion, diesel, fern, fungus, gooseberry, gorse, hazel, hazelnut, heather, holly, horse chestnut, ivy, lavender, leek, liquorice, manger, marzipan, melon, minnow, mint, nectar, nectarine, oats, pansy, parsnip, pasture, poppy, porridge, poultry, primrose, prune, radish, rhubarb, sheaf, spinach, sycamore, tulip, turnip, vine, violet, walnut, willow.
These words were removed to make way for: blog, broadband, MP3 player, voicemail, attachment, database, export, chatroom, bullet point, cut and paste, analogue, celebrity, vandalism, negotiate, interdependent, creep, citizenship, childhood, conflict, common sense, debate, EU, drought, brainy, boisterous, cautionary tale, bilingual, bungee jumping, committee, compulsory, cope, democratic, allergic, biodegradable, emotion, dyslexic, donate, endangered, Euro, apparatus, food chain, incisor, square number, trapezium, alliteration, colloquial, idiom, curriculum, classify, chronological, block graph.
Richard Louv, 2008 Audubon Medal recipient and author of Last Child in the Woods, says kids today are becoming more and more removed from nature, at the expense of their own psychological and physical well-being. Children are spending more time in structured activities and on electronic devices, leaving little time for unstructured play in nature.
In his book, Louv shares many studies that have shown spending time in nature has tremendous health benefits, including improved concentration and a greater ability to engage in creative play. It also can be helpful in treating mental illness (in particular attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression) and provide exercise that beats organized sports in terms of hour-to-hour physical activity.
Children who spend more time in nature develop better motor fitness and coordination, especially in balance and agility.
And the benefits for the mind are not to be overlooked: Greater time in nature can help children develop a healthy interior life, greater mental acuity, inventiveness and sustained intellectual development.
We live busy lives, and technology is a big part of them. But without nature, we lose a little bit of ourselves. The greatest legacy, in my opinion, that we can give our kids, is how to have a relationship with the natural world.
This is something that is accessible to everyone. At times, it seems like an uphill battle with all that is asked of us every day, but that is why we must make the time and try harder.