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TOO URBANISED: It's the only way to save the young from 'nature deficit disorder'
THERE were schools in this our fair land in days of yore that taught children how to grow green fingers. Those were early days at school when teachers would lead their pack to the school backyard to break the earth, loosen the soil and sow seeds that soon sprouted tomatoes and beans and nests for caterpillars that attracted the singing birds.
How many children now know that food need not necessarily come with wasteful packaging, doused in insect sprays and selected for uniformity to make it look as if nature grows only bananas that are straight?
You may want to laugh at that last one, but our dear Japanese folk are sticklers for misplaced perfection such as that. Grow a crooked banana and they'll think you are mad, and the disease has spread, no not the blight, but this hankering for the impossibly perfect fruit. There are farmers the world over who throw out food simply because the supermarkets say they are of the wrong shape, too big, too little, too imperfect for the human plate.
That's aesthetics gone mad, right out of the minds of marketing folk. Now, how does that connect with technology and the way it is shaping our lives?
The American author, Richard Louv, is one of the few people now trying to draw our attention to the plight of children who are growing so urbanised in their sanitised homes and are constantly in touch with the latest gadgets. He has coined the term "nature deficit kids" to describe the tribe and to highlight this area of neglect. Our children are so besotted with things that they are turning a blind eye to trees and parks and how seeds germinate in the stillness of the night and turn into mighty trees that shape and regulate the earth.
Well, there are countries now that are creating trees so big that you are overawed by their size and then your thoughts immediately turn to technology: how it can shape nature and take from you the sheer pleasure of walking among dead leaves.
But oh the leaves aren't dead, nothing in nature falls simply dead, the leaves go on to rot and mingle with the earth and give nutrition to the trees. How many children nowadays think about that?
We need to be aware of nature's intrinsic benefits, says Louv in his books and his blogs. He has written two books so far, Last Child in the Woods and its follow-up, The Nature Principle. The first book, strap-lined "saving our children from nature deficit disorder", roused the nation -- or some parts of it -- from its technological stupor and gave birth to school gardening movements.
We have all seen how nature softens the hard reality and the rough edges of our built environment. Think of a road with concrete blocks, without trees, or look at a picture of it. Then draw in some tress, line the roads with sycamore, and colour in the green. How does that now look?
How do pictures of barren, treeless landscapes in the minds of our children affect them? Louv cites Glen Albrecht, the Australian philosopher who calls this solastalgia, our psychic distress at the loss of nature. It is an emptiness that we get when our souls are drained of hope because of empty buildings, empty everything, "empty calories, empty suits, empty politics, empty financial institutions, empty architecture, empty schools, empty news -- emptied land".
"Shift the view just a bit, and the world fills with possibilities. By restoring our kinship with other species, we restore ourselves. Imagine nature-rich and nature-smart homes, neighbourhoods, schools, parks, urban and rural farms, workplaces, whole cities. To build this kind of a world, we need more than conservation. We need a new nature movement, not one that urges us back to nature, but forward to nature," says Louv.
We need to bring our children back to the land and re-teach the values of patience, the skills and the intelligence that result from journal keeping, keen observation and the marvel of seeing nature come to bloom in colours even more soothing and vivid than those seen on the screen.
The benefits are enormous, as attested by studies at Cornell University whose department of horticulture is an advocate of garden-based learning. Parents are becoming more involved with their children's education, there's increased self-esteem, better grades, more enquiring minds, keener appreciation of neighbourhood improvement. And children get a better grasp of key life science concepts and science inquiry skills from watching their gardens grow.
Taking children out to the garden and making them re connect is the greatest favour that we can do for them without adding greater burdens on resources for our curriculum. Why can't we get to know our environment better when we live in a climate where even a stick will sprout greenery when planted into the ground?