Some would argue that kids today are losing their connection with the planet and that each new generation has less contact with nature than the previous one. Many parents wrongly believe that their childhood exposure to the environment was satisfying and appropriate, but do not worry about their children being less exposed to it. So why is this and what can we do? Maguelonne Rousseau takes us back in time to explain what has happened and why being outside as a child is so important.
If you look back on what life looked like several centuries ago, before the Industrial Revolution, the urbanisation and the invention of electricity, human life was anchored in nature. Most of the human activity was in fields, farms or at sea, using natural resources, and mostly dedicated to supporting human physiological (food, water) and safety (shelter) needs. Human biorhythms were totally synchronised with daylight and many professions required large amounts of physical effort outdoors, replaced nowadays by sedentary indoor office work.
In short, people had to observe, respect and understand nature in order to survive. The harmony between Men and Mother Earth was obvious and unquestionable.
There are clearly great benefits associated with the Industrial Revolution where agricultural and handicraft activities shifted to industrial and machine-dominated ones. Goods became more affordable and more accessible, general health improved, wealth and quality of life increased. But all of those came with notable downsides that are more tangible now: overcrowded cities, pollution and other environmental problems, poor working conditions…
New technology allowed men to work faster, produce more, consume more, multi-task, but gave them less opportunity to directly link with the environment. This new way of life affected how people worked and produce goods, but also how they associate with one another and to the planet. Indeed, the industrial revolution redefined men’s lifestyle through the migration from the countryside to towns, resulting in the rise of large cities and an ever-growing distance between men and the living world.
The consequence is that we have slowly lost our inherent instinct to bond with nature, and we have a lower understanding of the living world. New discoveries and inventions in chemistry, medicine and engineering such as agricultural fertilization or construction of the dam, made us believe that we have mastered the environment. We have unconsciously developed a sense of domination towards the planet, making some of us believe that we no longer need nature. However, from time to time Mother Earth calls us to order.
Children from the youngest age instinctively interact with nature and are amazed by its breath-taking beauty and its wonders. Indeed, children’s brains are still wired to relate to the natural world and can show us again how it feels. Children simply appreciate the pleasures of playing with natural elements such as water, soil, sand, wind, stones, sticks… They also love engaging with mother nature’s flora and fauna, through sensory experiments, children discover the world and learn that they are part of it.
Those contacts with the living world are the simplest but the most powerful experiences kids can have to learn what life is about. Nature is the most beautiful and inexpensive gift parents can give to their children to make sense of the world, hence better understand themselves.