Richard Louv wrote this is a great article in Psychology Today about why nature is such an important part of building a more peaceable society; nature is important for our children and their social and emotional health and well-being.

On April 13th, I went to Richard Louv’s talk where he gave a short presentation, took questions, and signed books. Louv opened by talking about our relationship with nature - its importance and many benefits - and how our relationship with nature is changing. Louv spoke specifically about sustainability and how its connected with his work. Louv also discussed his work and hopes for the future.

Importance and Benefits of Nature
  • Interspecies interaction has many benefits for people - many studies have shown the calming effects that domestic pets have; the example of therapy dogs. The same could be said of relationships with wild animals in nature.
  • Nature is one of the few tools that can be used as both prevention and therapy in medicine
  • Glenn Albright has proposed that nature itself can provide protection from the psychological effects of climate change. Children are more likely to know the lost of nature before they ever have the chance to experience its beauty. In the future, how can we expect to raise a generation that will protect and conserve nature if they have never experienced its beauty first hand and not developed a relationship and appreciation for it
  • humans most preferred image is the landscape; specifically the savannah

Our changing relationship with nature

Louv says that there is a for hypervigilance and a time for mindfulness. We should not live in a constant fear hypervigilance. Relationships with nature might be based on fear rather than mindfulness and awareness.

Louv believes that sustainability is most often associated with energy efficiency - a sort of breaking even but conservation and sustainability is no longer enough. We must create new nature to counteract the effects of climate change and the human impact on the environment and biodiversity.

One example of “creating new nature” is the backyard wildlife habitat and the Homegrown National Parks movement by David Suzuki in Canada. These projects use native or native-like plants and human created micro-environments to support local wildlife; for example, bringing back butterfly migration routes.

In education

There is a need for more natural experience, as Louv discusses in his booksLast Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age

Louv expressed concern over the new trend of gamification - transforming education using video games. While this could get rid of testing as we know it (heavy focus on standardized testing), it would replace it with stealth monitoring; using ebooks to track how many pages students have read. While Louv emphasized that he is not anti-technology he advocates that for every dollar invested in technology we should put one into nature and nature education. “The more technology in our life, the more nature we need to keep the balance.”

The Future

Louv concluded on an optimistic note by encouraging us to focus on the positive. It’s about to talk about the struggles and injustices, but we must paint a picture of a world people want to go to. We must point to our ideals of what the world should and can be instead of what we don’t like. Using positive imagery rather than negative; rather than focusing on what we don’t want, we need to envision the world with the things we do want.

This month I took a little class called “Mentoring Kids in Nature” by Judy Osman at REI Encinitas. Great class that I learned about through the Family Adventures in Nature Meetup group in San Diego.

Class Description: Are you a parent or educator and want to inspire children to connect with nature? Join us for an exploration of teachings from the Wilderness Awareness School for youth of all ages. Through classroom discussion and “in the field” activities, we will connect with our innate ability to learn from nature, and develop a nurturing perspective on the art of mentoring children. At the end of this class you will have a foundation for engaging children’s inherent wonder through games and activities, without necessarily having to “teach” them.


Sit Spots and Storytelling
  • A sit spot is a place we get to know very well. A private, special place to explore and really get to know
  • It should be a place we can get to often and easily. Finding a balance between location and frequency is important. It should be a special place, but close to ensure frequent visits; Your own yard can be a sit spot and you might be more likely to visit every day. Or it could be down the street or other side of town, but be sure only to pick this is you can commit to visiting often
  • Sit spots are important because… They can be a place for reflection and contemplation. These places create ‘brain patterning’; connection and association between observations made in this place and the rest of the world. Sit spots encourage in depth learning about a small set of information and being able to extrapolate that knowledge to other situations

Animals as Inspiration: Owl Eyes, Fox Walking, and Bird Songs

  • Encourage kids to use a different perspective (and help widen perspective) by using animal qualities to explore the natural environment.
  • Owl Eyes - We practiced this in class; walk your path looking straight ahead, try not to move your eyes but instead use your peripheral vision to see your surroundings. Encouraging youth to do this can help them focus and really see their environment; explain why its called owl eyes and how owls use their large eyes and peripherial vision to see their surroundings without moving their eyes
  • Fox Walking - kids get down on their hands and knees. They take on the shape of animals and move in different ways to explore small spaces without “walking” space.

The Art of Questioning
  • Questioning - over lecture style teaching of imparting knowledge - encourages kids to think critically about their learning. Instead of directly telling kids about a certain type of plant or name of an animal, ask them questions about what they observe: “what do you notice about this tree?” what does its leaves look like (shape, color)? If kids spend time with the materials, getting to know its unique qualities, they’ll be more likely to absorb and contextualize the information. Replying to questions of “what’s this called” too quickly isn’t as rich of an experience; kids are more likely to learn and forget quickly

50/50 Principle
  • Balancing planned and unplanned/unstructured time is important. Too much planning and scheduling might lead to rushing through the experience faster than ideal for the sake of teaching a set amount of information and disappointment/frustration when kids don’t “follow the plan.” Instead, allow for flexibility and quality experience even if it means not getting to everything. As the “mentor” you might plan a mile hike to explore a variety of plants and animals, but might only get through 1000 feet of the walk with the kids taking their time and exploring what they find interesting. And that is okay; even better!
By the way: You should totally check out The Children and Nature Network (national), The San Diego Children and Nature Collaborative (local) and the Family Adventures in Nature San Diego group (local)!