By Riley Meese
Today, children devote only four to seven minutes a day to playing outside while they spend an average of seven and a half hours in front of electronic media. The rising generations of youth have been termed the “nature-deficit generation,” as they are migrating from the woods to indoor screens. Now, more than ever, environmental and outdoor education programs and schools are needed to spark today’s youth’s interest in their surrounding physical world and to extend their field of vision beyond the world of technology.
This wasn’t always the case. I think back to my childhood. I was never enrolled in environmental programs and never “formally” learned about the natural world — I simply played in the woods. After school, the neighborhood kids and I would go to the swamp and look for turtles to paint, explore the trail system we had created, or build endless forts. While I did not live in the “woods,” there were natural wooded areas that surrounded parts of my neighborhood. I even lost my first two phones to the woods because in my mind the priority was exploring, not texting.
Today, when I nanny kids, it feels like pulling teeth to get them outside for even 15 minutes. They could care less about the woods or the trampoline in their backyard. This is why environmental programs that take kids outside are so important. Without them, most kids will never be introduced to the wonders that lie beyond their screen doors.
At Colorado College, it can be easy to say that people still explore and get outside, as this tends to be the image of the school. Yes, you may have 15 ski days so far this season, but can you tell me what species of tree grow natively in the Pikes Peak region or what wildflowers are invasive? We as a human race are losing intimacy with the natural world. While I love snowboarding and backpacking as much as anyone, this cannot be the only way people interact with the outdoors, as these activities are not financially accessible to the majority of individuals. So then comes the question: what counts as an environmental connection? Is it right to say one person’s relationship to nature is more valuable than another? I would say no.
All connections to nature are valid, because at its core, it’s an individual connection and we all have different experiences and backgrounds that should be honored. In my opinion, the problem comes when one gets so focused on sharing their outdoor experience through social media that the actual experience of the adventure is lost. I’m saying for once, forget about taking that perfect Instagram selfie and focus on the people you are with and the place you are in, whether it be a National Forest or an Urban Park. If we cannot set the example for future generations by establishing a relationship to nature, who will?