Richard Louv's best selling book Last Child in the Woods brought national attention to "nature deficit disorder." In brief children are spending less time outdoors, and particularly less time in unstructured interaction with nature.
At the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority we have been working to engage children with nature through the following actions:
- NVRPA was one of the first park agencies to sign onto No Child Left Inside a coalition that is working to advocate for outdoor/environmental education.
- In 2009 we initiated a program that would allow area youth to volunteer some of their time and effort in our parks in exchange for access to park facilities that have fees associated with them. This program was to reduce potential barriers that some youth might have to using facilities like waterparks, and hopefully provided some insight into the fields of park management and maintenance.
- In 2009 we renovated the Nature Center at Potomac Overlook to enhance its appeal. It is now the only nature center we know of that is focused on energy, where it comes from, how it is used by people and the natural world, and what are the impacts of its use.
- For the last several years we have had a roving naturalist program during our peak months. This program brings nature education to thousands, whether that is a waterpark, campground, or special event. In terms of reaching the largest numbers of public with environmental education this is our most effective program.
- With the generous donation from a long-time park supporter, we are embarking on building a children’s garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens that will initially focus on Native American and early colonial settlers, mixing fun, imagination and historical and environmental education.
In the end the issue of children spending less time outdoors is less a child issue and more of a parent issue. As parents we need to look for opportunities to get our children outdoor and engaged with nature. If parents would make a new years resolution to take their child for a walk (hike) in the woods this year it would be a great start. Walking along surrounded by nature is a great time to bond and have the kind of conversation about school and life in general that it is hard to have during the hussel and bussel of daily life.