Thursday, April 3, 2008

No Child Left Inside

Thursday, April 3, 2008
25 comments
If you are a member of a bird club, have you noticed the utter lack of new, young members joining up in the past decade or so? My bird club certainly has. We are as gray as a winter sky. There simply isn't a crop of young nature enthusiasts coming up, interested in belonging to a club of like-minded souls.

Why?

Because kids today have a million other things vying for their attention and a red-spotted newt or an American redstart has a hard time competing with the latest Wii game or a TV loaded with 300 channels.

To promote The Young Birder's Guide, I've been giving my "No Child Left Inside" presentation, and I'll be giving it more in the coming months. In the talk I discuss how many of today's youngsters are suffering from a "nature deficit disorder" because they spend all of their time inside, on the computer, watching TV, talking on the phone, or playing video games. The only outside time they get is during recess at school or during organized sports activities. That's hardly a connection with the natural world.

Richard Louv, in his best-selling, fascinating book Last Child in the Woods, was one of the first to identify this unsettling trend of kids growing up with no connection to the natural world. If this trend continues unabated, we as a society may face some unfortunate consequences in the future. Studies have shown that children with little or no exposure to nature can develop both emotional and physical problems. Indoor-only childhood time can result in troubled kids.

Furthermore, if today's young people don't know and love nature, whom can we rely upon to be interested in the protection of the natural world in the future? To know something is to value it. And if you value it, you are more likely to want to protect it.

I could go on talking preachily about this topic for an hour. Other adults and organizations are getting involved, too, which is reason for hope. The Boy Scouts of America has redone its bird watching merit badge. The American Birding Association and Leica Sport Optics continue to sponsor youth birding team called the Tropicbirds. Here in Ohio, the Black Swamp Bird Observatory operates the highly effective Ohio Young Birders Club.

I am no evangelist, but I DO feel strongly about giving kids an easy entry to discover the world of birds if they want to. I'm trying to do what I can by giving my talk on this subject as often as possible.

Two upcoming dates where I'll be giving the "No Child Left Inside" presentation, in case you're interested, are Saturday April 12 at Lake Erie Wing Watch in Huron, Ohio, and Sunday, April 13 at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

If you can come, please do, and bring a young birder with you!

25 comments:

On April 3, 2008 at 9:55 PM Mel said...

Wish I wasn't this far, I would love to be in one of your lectures :)

On April 3, 2008 at 11:00 PM Trixie said...

You are so preaching to the choir here...my kids are out for many, many hours. We are sadly putting away the skis and looking longingly at the bikes. Sigh...it is still too wet for them, though.

On April 3, 2008 at 11:51 PM Born Again Bird Watcher said...

Testify Brother Bill, testify!

On April 4, 2008 at 12:12 AM thegreenmagpie said...

My "eagle-eyed" 15 year old got the honor of the first Great horned owl of the year this evening. I was driving and missed it, but she spotted it silhouetted against darkening sky in a bare cottonwood. Insisted I turnaround in middle of divided highway and go back so she could get the glasses on it. We sat along side road with flashers on, watching till it flew off. This is Miss I-pod and Facebook, there is hope.
Caroline in South Dakota

On April 4, 2008 at 1:59 AM Anonymous said...

Bill!

This is great. I agree. I've passed this blog on to a bunch of environmentally-minded people who I hope read it and pass it on.

I am a young-(ish) birder - early 30s - recent convert - and I sure wish I'd cottoned on to it earlier... And also that I "had" it earlier - I like the space that this activity fills in my life. I like that sense of being present in nature. To pass that on to one's kids I think is one of the best ways to set them up in life.

Dea

On April 4, 2008 at 7:54 AM Tom said...

I'm always wondering if parent's aren't more reluctant now adays to not let their kids run around the woods, etc. I grew up with Nintendo Entertainment System (the original) and Atari 2600, but I would have much rather gone down to the headwater stream behind my house and catch creek chubs and two-lined salamanders. But here in C-bus, I never see the kids from our neighborhood playing along the creeks like I did when I was a kid.

Tom

On April 4, 2008 at 8:13 AM possumlady said...

I don't quite understand the lack of young folk on bird watching trips either. My 30 year old niece who is an actual naturalist in northern Minnesota doesn't go on trips because she's the youngest person there by (as she says) a good 20 years. And, by being a naturalist, she literally can't afford gas money to travel much from her home base. I have to say the few times I've gone on big nature trips (to East Africa and northern Manitoba for polar bears), I, too, have been the youngest one. It may be a combination of the little weekend birding outings stereotyped by the "crazy little old lady birder" i.e. the woman in the Birds along with folks in their 20 and 30s not being able to afford a fantastic trip to Guatemala, or even a trip to Wisconsin from Minnesota!

On April 4, 2008 at 8:20 AM Patrick Belardo said...

Keep up the great work Bill. I've been trying to encourage all my friends with kids to come on my beginner walks. Also, I received a copy of your book to review yesterday. It's fantastic and I'm not just saying that because you're a cool blogger. I can see recommending it to more than just young birders.

On April 4, 2008 at 9:03 AM mrguildoo said...

I don't much, but I just wanted to say I couldn't agree more with your post. I'm a 7th grade teacher, and I do my best to get kids to just GO OUTSIDE. We introduced the novel Hoot this year, and hopefully a couple kids have gotten interested enough to get out there and notice some things. One of my favorite pics is this one of my daughter using a spotting scope:

http://flickr.com/photos/guildoo/264923791/in/set-72157594228617922/

Thanks for the great blog and the great post and the message you're sending!

On April 4, 2008 at 9:42 AM dguzman said...

Em definitely loves being outside. I think that examining tiny things in detail appeals to her meticulous nature. We try to encourage her all the time to explore and enjoy nature. She's even getting interested in birding!

On April 4, 2008 at 11:52 AM Eve said...

Hi Bill,
I joined my bird club in 2000. I am proud to say that my daughter Morgan started joining the trips in 2002 at the ripe old age of 5! She has enjoyed birding ever since and is learning so much and really enjoys the knowledge of the older members immensely as they have enjoyed watching her grow and become a wonderful birder. (OH she is a red-headed birder, as I know you have!!)

We are doing what we can to get other kids interested in birding and applaud your efforts. Wish we could make it to your show! Good luck in getting kids in the flock…they are out there…they just need to be found.

On April 4, 2008 at 2:12 PM Phil Chaon said...

"There simply isn't a crop of young nature enthusiasts coming up, interested in belonging to a club of like-minded souls." I'll definitley vouch for that. My high school has 2,500 students and I haven't found one yet that will go on a hike. Keep fighting the good fight.

On April 4, 2008 at 2:29 PM Owlman said...

I must agree with Tom. I have small kids and I'm not so sure that I would let them run around the woods alone, although I used to do it a LOT as a kid. I don't think the world is that much more dangerous; our perception of the world has just changed. It's sad that we've bought into the media's bombardment of the evil world that we live in. Having said that, I have raised my kids to go outside as much as possible. We send my 4 year old out into the yard as much as possible to let her dig in dirt, chase butterflies, birds etc. In case you’re wondering the yard is fenced in and the yappy dog goes out as security to help my abject paranoia. I plan on taking her out into the woods more this year and she’ll be joining me on bird trips very soon. I love the idea and title of the program although I think the foundation has to be laid VERY early. I must say the club experience is tough. I go on trips with the local county parks and I am mostly the youngest person even though I am in my mid 30’s. I think there is a perception amongst young people that bird watching is for old people. Hey, that perception was there when I was a kid, so I think it will be hard to make birding ‘cool’. Again, if we start young we can combat this perception, converting teenagers who are only into play station, MTV, clothes etc will be tough. I could go on all day, but I'll stop....

On April 5, 2008 at 7:23 AM Mary said...

Children seem to have an allergy to outdoors these days. It's sad - very sad.

On April 5, 2008 at 2:57 PM mon@rch said...

Bill, I couldn't agree with you any more than I do now! We just don't have enough kids enjoying nature anymore! Last Child in the Woods is probably one of the best books I have read in a very long time! I think every parent, nature lover or not should be required to read that book! I am so excited for you with your kids field guide being published and your connections in making it happen! I know many of us Western New Yorks would love to have you do that presentation at the Peterson Institute if you are ever in the area again! Their involvement with children would be one of the most perfect places to share your interest with!

On April 5, 2008 at 5:11 PM Alan said...

Well said Bill. I hope your lectures have some influence on parents with young children. I recently watched a local cable show (Exploring North Carolina) that talked about the very same thing. Here is a quote I took off the show that sums up the growing epidemic:

“Today, children can play games with virtual friends, in virtual forests, on a computer. Conversations take place on a cell phone, and friends are seen in Facebook, and not in a tree house. Children know more corporate logos than leaves, more product jingles than bird sounds, and catch more computer viruses than fish.”

On April 5, 2008 at 5:55 PM kevbosnafu said...

I dragged my daughter and her best friend out to our local state forest to attempt 'owling' recently. We didn't have much luck but they were thrilled just to try it and we spent some quality time together. My son is more of a challenge...he'd rather play video games or computer games than step outside to go birding - but he was slightly excited to see several osprey and cormorants up close on Cape Cod last summer. I don't know the answer but hopefully your lectures will help. Best of luck with them.

On April 6, 2008 at 9:12 AM Michael Nelson said...

I think getting young people to appreciate nature in general is a huge challenge now as they move indoors for all the entertainment they get inside - TV - Internet - Xbox etc

On April 6, 2008 at 10:38 PM Chris W said...

Good point Bill. There aren't a lot of young birders anymore. In fact, in the entire state of WI, I know of only a small handful that are under 18 (although, that isn't saying a lot). I think it's a combination of things more than any one thing. I also think that the concentration of young birders is higher in states where the weather is warmer longer. Here in WI, I never, ever run into a young birder purely by accident. When I was in High Island TX a few weeks ago, I was completely stunned to run into (purely coincidentally) not one but two young birders! I was even more stunned when one of them turned out to be a girl.
In my high school though, I'm the only birder.

I'd agree that there are several organizations that are promoting birding. The ABA/Leica Tropicbirds team is a very well run and as a two time member, I would recommend it to any young birder that likes birding 24/7 and likes competitions.
I would also recommend the ABA's Young birder's conference to any young birder that has a well set interest.

Happy Birding! --Chris W, who is 17 and an avid young birder and runs The SW WI birder blog.

On April 7, 2008 at 10:40 AM Rondeau Ric said...

Don't you EVER stay home?

I'm lookig forward to hearing the presentation at some point.

On April 11, 2008 at 11:09 PM Birdfreak said...

Our bird club's young birder roster tripled this past year! (From 1 to 3).

I have been working hard to connect with young birders across the US to find out how and why they became birders in an attempt to learn better ways to promote to other potential new birders.

Your new book will certainly help a lot!

On April 13, 2008 at 9:08 PM The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Timely post to keep this issue front and center! Hey, next time you're in the northeast, stop by and see us in Saratoga Springs!

On May 5, 2008 at 11:31 AM The Zen Birdfeeder said...

Bill, featured this post in my monthly Zen Nature Lesson post at
http://wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com/the_zen_birdfeeder/2008/05/zen-nature-less.html

On May 5, 2008 at 8:57 PM aullori said...

All I had to do to get my son intrested was hand him a camera. (more electronics I know...) He managed to get about four feet away from a very busy black-capped chickadee and he was completely hooked. :)

On December 15, 2008 at 10:24 PM Pat O'Donnell said...

Keep up the great work Bill!! This is an issue on my mind every single day. Yes, we absolutely need to get as many kids outside as possible- hopefully birding but really anything that will help them appreciate their natural world will do. Would be nice if we could wake up more adults to the beauty of their natural surroundings as well. I hope to get involved with encouraging the public to appreciate nature sometime soon here in Costa Rica.


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