Can schools reverse the "indoor migration"?

Suddenly, kids are spending nearly all of their time indoors — a wrenching historical change. In the last generation, Scott D. Sampson writes in How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, our society has witnessed an "indoor migration":

One study found that the average American boy or girl spends four to seven minutes a day outdoors....

By comparison, those same average American kids devote more than seven hours daily to staring at screens, replacing reality with virtual alternatives. Most boys rack up more than 10,000 gaming hours before age twenty-one....

The net result of these staggering statistics is what author Robert Michael Pyle has dubbed "the extinction of experience," highlighted by the gaping chasm between children and nature.

Ho boy.

I struggle not to be anti-screen in a simplistic, knee-jerk sort of way, but when I mull over the rising rates of depression among young adults, and the simultaneous lowering rates of outdoor play, it makes me nervous.

(I'm open, by the way, to any evidence suggesting that the two are not linked. Correlation ain't causation, and all that.)

Sampson suggests that this flight from nature isn't something that parents want. Quite the opposite, actually:

In the United States, 65 percent of respondents regarded this issue either as "very serious" or "extremely serious." Parents believe that developing a connection with nature is critical to a child's development. Among American parents, 82 percent regard time in nature to be "very important" to their children's development, second in priority only to reading.

What I take from this is the realization that there's a huge desire for ways to give kids real experiences in nature. There are other organizations who do this, of course — the Scouts come to mind! But because schools engage with childen five days a week, they seem to offer an even greater possibilities for reordering childhood to something more healthy.

So, our big question o' the week: how could a new kind of school regularly connect children with nature?

That's one of the riddles we're trying to unravel.

So far, our answers include bringing animals and plants into the classroom and cooking lunch together. We're also considering some manner of adventure playground. Though I haven't yet written about it here, we're also planning to engage in what Kieran Egan has dubbed "whole school projects" with a local natural site: a riverbed, for example, that we can regularly experience and intensively study for a number of years.

But let me raise this explicitly: how else can we do it?

How can a new kind of school lead the charge in re-connecting kids with nature?

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA