I do have one observation, though, which will probably turn into a research paper, but these are my original thoughts on the subject.
During a weekend visit to my in-laws, three adults took five children out for a walk to visit a duck pond. Actually the grown-ups had planned to go by themselves, but as soon as the children overheard one adult saying they might take a walk to the pond, all the kids were pulling on jackets and boots and were ready to go. I found this interesting because the children had not been very interested until ducks were mentioned.
Armed with a back of frozen hamburger buns, the children raced to the pond, not even distracted as they passed a jungle gym in the neighborhood park. The ducks were particularly hungry that evening, and as we arrived all of them got out of the pond to meet us on the path to be fed. The children practiced ripping off bite-size pieces of bread and throwing it to the ducks, the younger ones sometimes getting intimidated by shoulder-height ducks and throwing half the bun at them to make them go away. The older children mentioned concern about fairness and tried to throw their bread in different spots in the duck herd (or a brace of ducks1). Even after all the bread was gone the children did not want to leave, and even when the grown-ups started complaining about being cold the children wanted to stay and watch the ducks swim.
What I learned later that evening was that humans are born with bio-philia, meaning an innate love of animals. Babies are fascinated by animal pictures books, most children want pets, and the best part of a trip to the museum can be the pigeons strutting around outside.
However, children are not getting the same experiences today with animals that they did even a generation ago. More children today have allergies, and it has been shown that children who grow up on farms and are exposed to animal and dirt microbes have much lesser occurrences of allergies2. Most children today do not even know where their food comes from3. Some child researchers are talking about nature deficit disorder, a term coined by journalist and activist Richard Louv4, and lack of connectedness to nature has been shown to even affect cognitive ability5.
Fortunately, Congress has recently passed the No Child Left Inside Act, which would encourage school curriculums which focused on environmental education, and would increase funding for environmental education programs6.
A child’s idea and feelings towards nature are decided by the time they are five or six5. I think it is incredibly important to provide children the opportunity to experience and interact with their outside environments.
1. An Exaltation of Larks: The Ultimate Edition, James Lipton, Viking Penguin, 1991.
2. “Bacteria Modulates Immune Response to Decrease Allergy Among Farm Children,” Harvey McConnell, Lancet; 360:465-66, 2006.
3. “Kids don't know their onions about food,” Graham Hiscott, The Independent,
4. Richard Louv website: http://richardlouv.com/
5. “At Home with Nature: Effects of "Greenness" on Children’s Cognitive Functioning,” Nancy M. Wells, Environment and Behavior, 32(6):775-795, 2000.
6. No Child Left Inside Act: Solution