Scott D. Sampson believes we can cure Nature Deficit Disorder in a single generation. His plan? E.M.U.: Provide kids ample experiences in nature, come alongside them as a mentor, and help them develop understanding of how nature is knit together. Sampson quotes Jon Young, author of What the Robin Knows and founder of the Wilderness Awareness School located in — holy crum just a few miles away from my apartment! (a sure sign I'll be writing more about them in the future!) —
The antidote to Nature Deficit Disorder may be this simple: get people to spend time in nature, and when they return, be there to ask good questions and catch their stories.
That is, experience: getting kids outside, actively encountering what's around them. And mentoring: ask them to describe what they've smelled, heard, felt, and seen. And understanding: pepper them with questions that tease out their experiences into knowledge about the external world.
Helpfully, Sampson shares specific practices to flesh this out.
How can we give kids experiences in nature?
First, Sampson suggests, by giving them regular time outside. "Daily outings," he says, "are best." It's best for some of these outings to be entirely unguided wanders — let kids go where they will.
Sometimes, however, it's good to give kids suggestions as to how to pay attention. Here Sampson recommends sit spot: kids find a particular place (it needn't be picturesque), make themselves comfortable, and then... just sit!
While they're sitting, they should watch, and listen, quietly. Silence will encourage animals to come out of hiding. It'll also allow kids to pay attention to what's really going on around them: bird songs and winds and geographic features and everything else.
How can we give kids nature mentoring?
Most basically, by coming alongside them in their experiences outside. Our main job in this isn't, as adults, to tell them answers — it's to model how we ourselves value nature. Marvel about the changing leaves. Show your curiousness about the weird shapes of trees. Even gross out about spider webs!
Take the kids mapping. Tracking. Journaling. Help them learn bird language (something I've begun!).
Our job, as adult nature mentors, is also to pay attention to the kids. What are they reacting to? How are they learning best? Where are the edges of their understanding?
Finally, how can we help kids develop understanding?
Sampson has much more to say about this — look for a post on that t'morrow! — but he emphasizes that asking kids to tell about what they've experience is core.
We can help that along, too, by having them draw what they're experiencing, so they can tell about it later. Or take pictures. Or take video (although Sampson cautions that kids can become more excited by the process of taking videos than by the subject they're videoing, so be on guard here).
Reading this portion of How to Raise a Wild Child was so exciting, as someone who's obsession is helping launch a new kind of school, because we can do this — and we can help make it the norm for a large number of people!
We can do this.
What a treat.