Richard Louv Speaks on Growing 'Natural Leaders'

Richard Louv // Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of richardlouv.com

Every once in a while a great opportunity comes along, like the chance to attend the Catoctin Forest Alliance’s Meeting at Mount St. Mary’s University earlier this spring. Six staff members from the National Conservation Training Center (NCTC) in Shepherdstown, WV, leaped at the chance to hear speakers on the theme of “Connecting Our Children with Nature.” After all, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has its own initiative, “Connecting People with Nature.”

The impressive lineup included over 15 speakers from the National Park Service and Maryland state agencies and organizations. They were excellent motivators, and addressed an audience of around 225 attentive listeners. Staff from NCTC's division of education outreach who attended the meeting learned that it doesn’t matter where you go outdoors—backyards, parks, botanical gardens, refuges, trails, schools, and camps—you will reap the benefits.

The keynote speaker was journalist and author of eight books, Richard Louv. Since writing, “Last Child in the Woods,” Louv has influenced a movement of getting people to go outdoors and to connect with nature. Louv coined the phrase "nature-deficit disorder" to describe the lack of outdoors and exposure to nature that children and adults experience today. The phrase became contagious among health and environmental proponents and the push began to get people outdoors.

During his presentation, Louv spoke about children becoming “natural leaders” and the importance of making nature an important part of their lives. Louv suggested adults take the initiative and create natural play spaces, natural toolkits and family nature clubs as part of the solution to nature-deficit disorder. He asked the audience, “What if family nature clubs caught on like book clubs?” Family nature clubs can begin simply with a family participating in outdoor activities and inviting a second family, who in turn, invites a third family, and the club continues to grow. In Virginia, 700 families are participating in a Family in Nature Club. The advantage of going outside as a group can soften the fears of strangers and nature.

Louv suggested planting the seeds now for “self-replicating social change,” encouraging adults to make it a ritual to take children outdoors. He added that pediatricians are prescribing or recommending going outdoors to patients as a health benefit.

During a time when schools are eliminating recess, and field trips, Louv suggested honoring teachers who are nature heroes—those who produce awe and wonder in children by providing lessons outdoors—and networking their success stories. Louv encouraged the audience which included teachers, environmental educators, and federal and state employees “not to wait for the powers to be,” but rather take the initiative and integrate nature into our own lives and children’s lives.

Near the end of August, Richard Louv will be visiting NCTC for the Children and Nature Network's annual conference which brings together regional leaders from various conservation organizations to pursue solutions for reconnecting kids with nature.

So what can you do to connect with nature? Even though you may go to college or work in an office, you can still find time to walk outside during a break or lunch. In the evenings, turn off the computer or television and sit on your front porch or deck. On the weekends or while on vacation, include outdoor activities like visiting a nearby county, state, or national park or wildlife refuge.

To learn more about Richard Louv, visit his website at richardlouv.com.

 -- published --  June 8, 2012
 -- photo credit --  Photo courtesy of richardlouv.com

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