My own offspring, though they grew up in the suburbs, still made mudpies, climbed the huge tree at the end of our garden, played for hours outside, biked around the neighbourhood and walked unaccompanied to school, shops and municipal swimming pool.
Sadly, many youngsters in our modern, Western cultures now live indoor lives. Nature is something on TV. Grass stains, daisy chains, muddy knees and frogs in your pocket have been replaced by consoles, joysticks, mobile phones and virtual reality. Imagination has been hijacked by the Disney Corporation and most playthings come in plastic.
There also appears to be an 'epidemic' of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a condition little-known before the 1980s. An estimated six million children in the USA are now being given amphetamine-like drugs to control their unruly behaviour and unfocused attention.
Are these two phenomena – children's loss of contact with Nature and the alarming rise of ADHD – connected? Since human beings co-evolved for millions of years in deep, reciprocal relationship with the natural world, could it be that moving out of that relationship into artificially-created, urban environments has negative consequences for our wellbeing as a species and for the healthy development of our young?
This is not mere conjecture. Author Richard Louv has researched the connection very thoroughly and in his book Last Child in the Woods he presents sufficient evidence, both experimental and anecdotal, to suggest that by keeping our children indoors we are creating something he calls 'nature deficit disorder'. It is not a clinical diagnosis – not yet anyway. But it is a wonderfully apt name for the condition we our producing.
Why do we do it? Why do we keep our children inside when they should be out playing in the countryside, the park or even just in the backyard or the street?
Louv explores all the reasons. They range from the fear created by media focus on the (small and actually not increasing) number of children harmed by strangers or in accidents, to the officious attitudes of planners and local government officials for whom parks are neat and tidy places and to whom ten-year-old fort-builders appear a menace.
As a grandparent now, I am thrilled to see the delight my grandsons are taking in being outdoors, in the woods, in the park, even splashing in puddles. I've noticed they even spontaneously hug trees. (Must be genetic!!) And I'm thrilled that their parents give them plenty of opportunities to do all those things.
The latest edition of Orion Magazine has a splendid article by Richard Louv entitled "Leave No Child Inside". If you are as interested in this subject as I am, click here to read the article.