I work as an Executive Director for an outdoor and environmental education centre. I have a friend who grew up without computers and handheld devices. He is a wonderful naturalist. A walk through the woods with Drew (my friend) takes a long, long time. Every few steps he notices something interesting, he’ll hunker down and we’ll stop and investigate. I, on the other hand, have to look it up in a field guide.
It occurs to me that in this age of information, we tend to externalize our memory. We don’t have to remember that insect or that wildflower because we can easily look it up. But I wonder if we lose something here? Drew carries his knowledge of nature not only in his mind but in his whole body and through all of his senses. He recognizes the sounds of songbirds, he can identify a tree by its smell and he can name each plant and tell a story about it. Drew knows not just what he sees but also what he expects to see. He is tuned into the rhythms and cycles of the natural world. I wonder that, as we rely on devices to store our information and knowledge, do we dislocate that knowing from ourselves? And by abdicating knowledge to devices, do we then de-personalize understanding?
As an Environmental Educator, I notice that children are spending less and less time outdoors. The average child spends something like 7 and ½ hours a day in front of a glowing screen and less than 30 minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play. I worry that our landscape, our “neighbourwood” – as I like to call it – is becoming part of a foreign country – it is becoming unknown to us and to our children. Environmental Sensitivity Research has revealed that in order for children to care about their environment they need experiences outdoors. In a way, they need to absorb the land, the water, and wildlife into themselves – so they feel an integral part of something larger – the very life systems that support and nurture us all.
I hope parents, educators and community leaders can come to recognize the power of direct experiences in nature and the importance of acquiring personal knowledge about our “neighbourwood” and our home. A knowing that is full bodied enough that we yearn to share it with others. Indeed, good environmental education begins here…
By Jacob Rodenburg, Executive Director, Camp Kawartha