Got dirt?

playing_in_the_dirt.jpg[Editor’s note: This just in — and in time for Earth Day (barely). I reprint below an extract from the new, second edition of Richard Louv’s classic and inspirational book, Last Child in the Woods.  The new edition is expanded and contains more practical suggestions (here are a few more), as described below. I intend to use them since this week is my son’s “TV turn-off week” (this also includes computers) suggested by his school. I sure had a lot of fun with dirt when I was a young’un.]

It’s Time to Turn Consciousness into Action

By Richard Louv
Author of Last Child in The Woods

Got dirt? “In South Carolina, a truckload of dirt is the same price as a video game!” reports Norman McGee, a father in that state who bought a small pickup-load of dirt for his daughter and friends.

McGee is turning consciousness into action. So is Liz Baird, who keeps a “wonder bowl” available for her children.

When Baird was a little girl she would fill her pockets with natural wonders — acorns, rocks, mushrooms. “My Mom got tired of washing clothes and finding these treasures in the bottom of the washer or disintegrated through the dryer,” Liz recalls. “So she came up with “Liz’s Wonder Bowl”, and the idea was that I could empty my pockets into the bowl. I could still enjoy my treasures, and try to find out what things were, and not cause trouble with the laundry.”

McGee and Baird are among the thousands of parents who have joined — and are leading — an international children and nature movement. Sometimes known as Leave No Child Inside, the effort is bringing together people from all walks of life, who are creating grassroots regional campaigns, state and national legislation, and changes in their own families to help children become happier, healthier and smarter.

An emerging body of scientific knowledge links nature time to longer attention spans, better cognitive functioning, reduction of stress, and strengthened family bonds. What better way to enhance parent-child attachment than to walk in the woods together, disengaging from distracting electronics, advertising, and peer pressure?

Howard Frumkin, director of the National Center for Environmental Health at Centers for Disease Control, recently describes the clear benefits of nature experiences to healthy child development, and to adult well-being.

“In the same way that protecting water and protecting air are strategies for promoting public health, protecting natural landscapes can be seen as a powerful form of preventive medicine,” he says. He believes that future research about the positive health effects of nature should be conducted in collaboration with architects, urban planners, park designers, and landscape architects. “Of course, there is still much we need to learn, such as what kinds of nature contact are most beneficial to health, how much contact is needed and how to measure that, and what groups of people benefit most. But we know enough to act.”

If you’re a parent who missed out on nature as a child, now’s your chance. Indeed, all the gifts of nature that come to children also come to the good adult who introduces a child to nature.

Young people are acting, too, by becoming natural leaders in the movement. For example, a seven-year-old girl in Virginia rounded up her friends and enrolled them in her own Girls Gone Wild in Nature Club. Together they organize backyard campouts and bug hunts.

In Mississippi, teenager Josh Morrison founded Geeks in the Woods for his friends and fellow geeks everywhere. He defines “geek” as a “gaming environmentally educated kid,” and says he and his friends are “tired of being labeled” tech addicts ” can have their PlayStations and their outdoor time too: “We could be the generation that makes a U-turn back to . . . a balance between virtual reality and what sustains all life . . . nature.”


full_moon.jpg1. Go for a family walk when the moon is full. There’s a whole new set of animals, sights and sounds out there. Listen to animals calling. Owls and bats are looking for prey. Watch for things glowing, like worms and fungus on trees. And look up at the stars.

2. Help your child discover a hidden universe. Find a scrap board and place it on bare dirt. Come back in a day or two, lift the board, and see how many species have found shelter there. Identify them with the help of a field guide. Return to this universe once a month, lift the board and discover who’s new.

catching_lightning_bugs.jpg3. Tell your children stories about your special childhood places in nature. Then help them find their own: leaves beneath a backyard willow, the bend of a creek, the meadow in the woods. Let it become their intimate connection with the natural world.

4. Revive old traditions. Collect lightning bugs at dusk, release them at dawn. Make a leaf collection. Keep a terrarium or aquarium. Go crawdadding — tie a piece of liver or bacon to a string, drop it into a creek or pond, wait until a crawdad tugs.

beartracks.jpg5. Invent your own nature game. One mother’s suggestion: “We help our kids pay attention during longer hikes by playing “find ten critters” — mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, snails, and other creatures. Finding a critter can also mean discovering footprints, mole holes, and other signs that an animal has passed by or lives there.”

Adapted from LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS by Richard Louv, copyright 2008. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

In our families and our communities, it’s time to take action. That’s why the new, expanded 2008 edition of “Last Child in the Woods” contains a “Field Guide” with 100 Actions that families and communities can take, along with discussion questions, a report on the movement, and other resources for parents, educators, conservationists, business people and community leaders.

For more information, see the Second Edition of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder“. To help build the movement, please join the Children & Nature Network.

Richard Louv, recipient of the 2008 Audubon Medal (and an honorary Natural Patriot!), is the author of seven books. The chairman of the Children & Nature Network, he is also honorary co-chair of the National Forum on Children and Nature.

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
This entry was posted in Biodiversity, Biophilia, Books and media, Education, Natural Patriots, Sustainability and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Got dirt?

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  3. Reiki says:

    I have 3 kids and have always believed that the more time they spend with nature, the better off they will be in the long run. That is not to say that video games or television are the devil. I like to balance all of these things and let my kids make the final decision. I think forcing a child too hard into nature can get an aversive response.

  4. Emmett Duffy says:

    Quite right, Reiki. Forcing kids (or adults for that matter) to do anything can backfire. The key is to bring them into a situation where interacting with Nature is possible and they are not overwhelmed with competition from other distractions. Then the magical appeal of living creatures is eventually bound to take over — naturally.

  5. Champix says:

    Also educate your children to the natural dangers that exist too. Here in the UK when we go on our riverside walks, my children know to avoid the dangers of the Giant Hogweed that loom over us like beautiful angels of death. The council are supposed to kill them all, but sadly they are negligent in this regard, and a tragedy is just waiting to happen. Make sure that it doesn’t happen to your child.

  6. Roy Dixon says:

    This is what kids today are missing. They spend so much time in front of the TV and they have no idea what they are missing and it’s the parents’ fault. I have 4 brothers and a sister. There was a small, unkept apple orchard about half a mile down the dirt road where we lived as kids. In the late summer, we used to all get together, pick teams and we would have rotten apple fights . For hours we would hit each other with these old, brown, nasty apples and it was the most fun I can remember having in my life.

  7. Emmett Duffy says:

    I’m with you Roy. We usually did it with dirt clods rather than rotten apples, though we did use crabapples when they were available. Good “clean” fun!

  8. Roy Dixon says:

    Dirt clods worked great, Emmett. Also, how many kids have ever seen a badger, or a possum, or even a skunk in real life, in the wild. Those are the things you always remember. I tell you, I would trade a month of sitting at this damned computer for one hour of being 12 years old again, sitting in the top of a tree and seeing how far I could spit.

  9. Larry says:

    I grew up in Arizona where we used to do the same thing with rotten oranges. The orange groves were like big mazes. Nothing like being hit in the face with a rotten smelly orange. And then when we were up camping in the mountains, we would have to use pine cones…

  10. I like it , I have several young cousins who have been raised by the video game and television culture so they seldom go outdoors.

    These steps you listed is an excellent idea to help reintroduce our young ones to the wonders of the great outdoors. I’ll try organizing our kids hopefully they’ll acquire a taste for the outside world as much as their video games.

  11. Ted says:

    It is definitely a lifestyle change… all areas of your life need to reflect a healthy life style and your correct in having a balanced spiritual, physical and emotional life.