Giving Nature Back: To Our Children, Ourselves

…Abby had found the broken remnants of a tailless kite, and entertained herself (and us) for a delightful hour under the blue prairie sky.

That afternoon I witnessed in a most striking way the contrast between the old-fashioned play of children actively entertaining their bodies and imaginations in the out-of-doors, and the modern, physically-passive, over-stimulating kinds of “recreation” that happen to kids almost exclusively indoors and may involve use of the thumb muscles alone.

“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are” explained one urban fifth grader.

Read More (quick-loading Scribd pdf). This is an early draft, editorial comments welcomed and appreciated.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. This sad situation isn’t just a post-video-game-world phenomenon, either. I remember a question raised in French lessons when I was at school, as a topic to stimulate conversation: “Do you prefer the pleasures of the town of the countryside?” To me, a city-born kid, the countryside represented paradise – a place of trees to climb and streams to splash in was my idea of heaven. So I was dumbfounded to find that my view was in the minority. Even forty years ago, before all today’s electronic gadgets and gizmos, my peers preferred discos and cinemas to open skies and green fields.

  2. You’re certainly right, Andy, and Louv goes into many other “distances” between us, our children and the vitality that comes from close communion in and with the natural world.

    It is a complex issue, even spiritual in nature, and the idea of “stewardship gospel” is something about which as a Christian I’d like to think and read–and write, if I can do so in such a way as to contribute more than just a few thousand more words to the ethers.

  3. fred- excellent! and a message that needs to be read and heard! i know from personal experience working in the special education field…. we would get kids with “behavior” and “attention” problems that thrived in the small classes and hands-on learning that we were able to provide at our school and residential campus- one with a 300 acre campus, swamps, nature trails, etc.

    i am so grateful to live in a rural area….even though we’re in town it’s a small town and our neighborhood is full of kids. any opportunity they have, they are all outside playing or riding bikes as all our backyards interconnect without fences.

  4. Hello Fred. I am a new visitor to your blog; Bluemountainmama pointed me your way!

    Reading this was a breath of fresh air; I was born, raised, and still live in the Pacific Northwest. From an early age, I felt freest and most alive when out of doors. I recently took a retreat from the city where I live and spent a day at a state park running down trails, chasing waves on the beach, picking up and admiring rocks, breathing deeply the scents of the sea air, the trees, and the damp earth. The playfulness I felt bubbling up inside me was instantaneous. Who would want to stay inside and sit in front of a screen?

    I have no children, but if I ever do, I certainly hope to instill in them an appreciation for the world outside the door. Play need not be accompanied by flashing lights, loud noises, and so much artifice as those “play palaces” would have some think. God has already given us such a fantastic playground that engages our whole selves.

    Thank you for sharing this. I will visit again soon!