Addressing the Importance of Significant Life Experiences: Designing a Parenting Program to Reconnect Families to Nature
Schneider, Erin M.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Natural Resources
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Today’s culture of “more” has put families under extreme pressure as they struggle to cope with the issues of excess consumption, marketing to children, increased use of screen devices, the strong influence of the media, over-scheduling, strong emphasis on structured “learning opportunities” at an early age, and the devaluing of free play. These issues not only cause a barrier to connecting children with nature, but also have a profound impact on the health of children, families, communities, and the planet. Children’s disconnect not only has an impact on their own emotional and physical wellbeing, but also leads to a loss of curiosity about and interest in protecting the natural world (Louv, 2005). Tanner (1980), Palmer (1993) and Chawla (1999) all write about the importance of life experiences in nature and positive childhood role models in the development of an appreciation of nature. How many parents today are providing outdoor experiences and positive role modeling for their children? Unfortunately, children today are experiencing very different childhoods than generations past due to a wide variety of reasons, such as proliferation of screen devices, high value placed on adult-led, organized activities, parental fear, and the growing value of stuff over experience due to increased impact of advertising and marketing. Adding to this is the stress and exhaustion of today’s parents who are working longer hours and keeping busier schedules, which makes it more and more difficult for them to encourage their children to go outside to play, or to get outside together as a family. Considering the growing strain our overconsumption is having on the ecosystem services that sustain life on our planet, we need to rapidly shift how we are living on this planet and increase the protection and preservation of natural lands across the globe. How do we make this shift when people are too busy or too disconnected to care? How do we build the awareness, knowledge and skills necessary to empower people to make impactful changes in their lives? Simplicity Parenting, in concert with formal and non-formal environmental education, could be an effective venue to address these questions and achieve our goal of a more environmentally literate society.