The influx of technology has provided us with so many opportunities. With the swipe of our fingertips we can look up anything, order rare items, and our children can independently learn and play quietly. Although these things fulfill some of our need for forward momentum and intellectual growth there is another human need they cannot satiate. In 1984 Edward Olson coined the term biophilia to describe the tendency humans have towards connecting with nature and other forms of life. Humans, especially the young child, have an urge to be immersed in and connected with nature.
In his book “Last Child Left in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” Richard Louv
discusses a growing national trend to keep children inside out of fear of harsh or unsafe conditions in favor of indoor
and often technological stimulation. He stresses the importance of providing our children with experiences outdoors
to foster their innate love of the natural world. In the book, Louv offers actions and discussion points for connecting
children and communities to nature.
Louv suggests specific ways that spending time outside supports the child’s healthy development. Think about
making a fort out of sticks in the woods. There is no one right way to build the fort—possibilities are endless and
creativity is not only allowed, but necessary for success. The child will have to manipulate large objects, moving blood and focusing the mind. The stimulation (or lack there of) in a stand of trees reduces stress and can act as a powerful form of therapy. The immense variety and diversity found in nature provide endless sensorial experiences to enrich the child’s understanding of the world.
This week, the trees glistening with the weight of snow reminds me just how beautiful each component is. The
bare branches stand strong against the harsh winter; meanwhile, the dancing snow shows us the playful side of
cold, windy days. Montessori recognized the human desire to be surrounded by nature and now more than ever it
is necessary to encourage this tendency in our children and ourselves. So while indoor technology may offer easy
refuge from harsh conditions, we owe it to the children to continue to prioritize providing them with the enrichment
only nature can fulfill.
“There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to
be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees which speaks to the soul, something no
book, no museum is capable of giving.” (Maria Montessori, Childhood to Adolescence)
-Sarah Shay, DMA PEN Newsletter December 2016