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We Care for What We Know and Love The Case for Healing the Broken Bond between Children and Nature Marti Erickson, Ph.D. Director Emerita, Harris Training Programs, U of M Co-founder & Chair, Children & Nature Network Co-host, Mom Enough™ , St. Croix River Association

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st croix river association may 11 2012

We Care for What We Know and Love The Case for Healing the Broken Bond between Children and NatureMarti Erickson, Ph.D.Director Emerita, Harris Training Programs, U of MCo-founder & Chair, Children & Nature NetworkCo-host, Mom Enough™,

St. Croix River Association

May 11, 2012


Since the 1970s my work

has addressed these large

research questions:


What does it take to raise a child to become a healthy, caring, responsible, respectful adult?

Especially for a child in high-risk circumstances, what are the protective factors that will enable that child to thrive and succeed?

tipping the balance toward promise
Tipping the Balance Toward Promise





tipping the balance toward promise1
Tipping the Balance Toward Promise







But while my colleagues and I were studying these important risk and protective factors, something dramatic was happening to children and families across America, and we weren’t paying close enough attention!

I want to talk with you about that, in three parts:


So what?

Now what?



Children stopped going outside!

• Decline in time spent playing outside (and shorter roaming radius)

• Decreased use of state & national parks

• Shift to structured, adult-directed activities when children are outside


What stops children from playing outside?

• Parental fear

• Seductiveness of technology

• Shift to a reductionistic concept of learning

• Lack of access to natural environments (with significant disparities across different segments of the population)


So what?

Why does this matter? What are the benefits when children connect with nature?

• Better physical health

• Reduced stress and anxiety (for children & adults)

• Better concentration (note recent findings on ADHD)

• More cooperation, problem-solving and creativity

• Increased likelihood of being good stewards of the environment in adulthood


Now what?

What can you and I do to connect children and

nature? When, where and how do we begin?


The Children & Nature


Working to heal the broken

bond between children and nature

Inspired by Richard Louv’s

book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder


Now what?

Begin early!

The theory of biophilia:

Children have an innate

attraction to natural things.

E.O. Wilson


Starting early means we need to engage

parents and grandparents.

But parents don’t want one more “should,”

so how do we meet them where they are?


Connecting with nature

serves parents’ needs!

• De-stress

• Strengthen relationships

Together in nature,

many benefits, no harmful

side effects!


See the world through new eyes!

“The only voyage of discovery…

consists not in seeking new

landscapes but in having new


Marcel Proust, 1923


Suggested parenting goals:

• Make outdoor experience a part of your child’s

daily life from infancy on

• Make outdoor experience a part of YOUR

daily life

Note: near nature and small nature count. Simple is good!


Starting early also means we need to reach out

to childcare providers and early childhood educators.

Return nature to schools, pre-K through 12th grade

(recess, natural play areas, school gardens,

outdoor learning centers)


Windows of Opportunity

• Nurture young “natural leaders”*

Make it cool to be outside!

* Natural Leaders Network,

an official program of C&NN…


…but also happening

in other previously existing programs

“Natural leaders” of all abilities at

Wilderness Inquiry in Minneapolis, MN


Windows of Opportunity

• Design communities to facilitate

nature experience for ALL children


Pocket parks

Community gardens

Safe public transportation to nearby nature

Leave no child inside!

“Whatever kids do is based on how adults have made the environment. Adults will control the government for the next 20 years. Kids do what adults allow them to do. Adults build highways that kids can’t cross to get to the forest. They make video games that keep kids inside. If adults provided better opportunities, kids would go out more.”

Simon, age 13


What can your organization do to connect children and families to nature?

• Provide transformational experiences in nature for people

of all ages

• Promote the 3 Cs in nature (connection, competence and


• Engage parents and other caregivers to bridge children’s

program experiences into their daily lives

• Partner with early childhood programs, schools and other

community organizations

• Advocate for children’s health and learning through nature


How will YOU use this

information to give children the gift of a true connection to nature?

To learn more, visit