Richard Louv wrote in his 2008 milestone book
Last Child In the Woods that children need nature for the healthy development of their bodies, their minds, their senses, even their creativity and imagination. Yet for myriad reasons—ranging from the paving over of forests and fields to the lure of electronic devices to adult fears that exploring in the woods is too dangerous for their kids—fewer and fewer children are getting outside to burn off energy and connect with trees, bugs, birds, rocks, streams, clouds, companions, colors, mysteries, mosses, animal sounds, pine scents, wildflowers, wild thoughts, fresh air and two of the human race's most powerful experiences: discovery and wonder.
This week the U.S. Forest Service sent me an email announcing a program designed to address what Louv has labeled "nature-deficit disorder" among kids. As part of a joint effort with the National Environmental Education Foundation, the announcement noted, the Forest Service "is offering its 193 million acres of forests and grasslands as a prescription for healthier kids."
The word "prescription" is more than a metaphor. Even though "nature-deficit disorder" is a writer's description, not a formal medical condition, the new program, known as the Children & Nature Initiative, "trains health care providers to take a child’s environmental history and give patients and their guardians a written prescription for outdoor activity, connecting them with a particular forest, park, wildlife refuge, nature center or other public land near their neighborhood," according to the announcement. "Outdoor activity can help prevent serious health conditions like obesity and diabetes but also can reduce stress and serve as a support mechanism for attention disorders."
“Our nation's forests and grasslands offer tremendous physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to an increasingly urbanized populace,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We hope kids and parents alike will follow the doctor's orders when given a ‘prescription for fun.’”
According to the announcement, the initiative "gives health care providers the technical support, tools and resources they need to be effective in prescribing outdoor activity to patients. Providers are trained to become 'nature champions' for children in their communities."
This is welcome news for those of us lucky enough to have spent considerable time in the woods as kids, and to have given lots of thought to children's increasing distance from nature (it is one of many reasons Pamelia and I launched The Naturalist's Notebook in 2009). Just one suggestion: How about starting an Adults & Nature Initiative too?
Art Meets Elephant I'm not sure whether to be fascinated, spooked, appalled or inspired by this lumbering mechanical pachyderm created by artists in Nantes, France. People's eagerness to ride it may reflect the awe humans feel when we see large mammals, or perhaps just our desire to control them. It's thought-provoking—and obnoxiously loud and grating (perhaps part of the artists' intent), so you might want to watch the clip with the volume turned down.
Notebook Road Trip Last weekend Notebook team member Haley Harwood and science-and-nature-minded companion Eric St. Denis ventured down to Bates College with a carload of books from the Notebook to sell at the spring meeting of the Josselyn Botanical Society. We at the Notebook are novices at this sort of thing, but the experience was fun and enlightening. Eric and Haley heard longtime Notebook friend Arthur Haines (research botanist at the New England Wildflower Society) discuss his new book, Flora Novae Angliae (Flora of New England), and attended workshops where they learned how to identify winter fungi and collect, press and mount herbarium specimens. Someone at the event even bought a copy of Last Child In the Woods. Thanks, Haley and Eric. And thanks too to all you nice folks from Josselyn.
Speaking of Books…
We also sell books by mail. You can look through many of our more serious nature and natural history titles by clicking on http://www.vfthomas.com/TNNbooks-nh.htm. If you see something you would like, just email us your order at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Just FYI, the phone number listed on that web page has the wrong area code; Maine is 207, not 201.) We have MANY other books for adults and children on science, nature, math, art making, gardening and other topics at The Naturalist’s Notebook, but we haven’t had time to put them on a web page.
We have Richard Louv's new book, The Nature Principle, which describes how tapping into the natural world can help people of all ages become healthier, smarter, happier, more creative and more deeply connected to other people and the world.
A Musical Interlude Last year a pair of 14-year-olds helped curate our interactive Biodiversity Room. Anthea and Melanie worked with us to start an origami tree to which Naturalist's Notebook visitors could add leaves, birds, bats, blossoms and other of their own origami creations—thereby slowly building a richer and richer ecosystem.
This week we got word that Melanie, a cellist, had earned the honor of being selected to the Connecticut student orchestra. She obviously has superior talent, and she has musical bloodlines—her grandmother, Vivian Perlis, is a concert harpist and one of the most important American music historians ever, having done pioneering work on the oral histories of 20th century American musicians—but what also stands out about Melanie (besides her being a wonderful person) is her willingness to work hard to achieve goals. Training to be a musician (or an athlete or a biologist or many other things) requires sacrifice. Not all teenagers, even smart, talented ones, will dial back their social lives and TV watching to spend time alone working on, say, their cello fingering. Here's to Melanie for setting an inspiring example for us kids of all ages.
If you'd like a few moments of lovely music, here's a link to Melanie and three fellow students performing Antonin Dvorak's Bagatelle No. 5:
This week we watched For All Mankind, a 1989 documentary about NASA’s Apollo missions. The film was nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar. The Netflix DVD had a bonus feature on the space-related paintings done by Alan Bean, who was the fourth astronaut to walk on the Moon. Bean at one point talks about the difficulty he had keeping his balance when he first stepped onto that big orb of cheese and hadn’t adjusted to its weaker gravity, which makes a person feel lighter. Here’s the question:
If a person weighs 150 pounds on Earth, how much will he or she weigh on the Moon?
a) 85 pounds
b) 60 pounds
c) 25 pounds
Here's one of former astronaut Alan Bean's paintings. You can find more at alanbean.com.