In early January Greece was rocked by the ” White Week ” (Nea/18-1-2014 , http://www.esos.gr/arthra/defterovathmia-ekpaidefsi/eidisis-defterovathmia-ekpaidefsi/syskech-ypoyrgvn-gia-th-leykh-ebdomada, www.avgi.gr/article/1710917/gia-ti-leuki-ebdomada-, etc).
The (justified) uproar publications and reactions that followed the proposal of hoteliers for a week of “pause» of the schools, so that students with their parents ” would go skiing”, took away a potentially substantial discussion of a similar and really hot topic . The problem of the limited contact of students with nature.
The author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods, was the first to create the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD), in order to explain how social disconnection from nature affect today’s children . Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn’t quite ready for the overstimulating environment we’ve carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don’t develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.
Not to argue that nature is a panacea , parents should see the forests , streams, meadows and gorges that are relatively close to their homes , as a type of therapy that helps children to be clustered , have confidence , to be healthy and balanced. Studies also show links between nature and behavior: kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) thrive when put in routine contact with nature in documented test cases. Louv says this is especially relevant when taking into account the number of kids treated for ADHD with drugs such as Ritalin. “We have to begin to question how many pharmaceuticals we are putting into our kids,” Louv says. “We have to start looking at nature therapy.”
While Nature Deficit Disorder isn’t a clinical term, the concept has struck a chord with parents and educators. The child-nature reunion has emerged as a movement, and Louv says this is because the concept rings true for a generation of parents and grandparents who are reminded of their own joyous experiences in nature as children; whether it be summer camp, building a tree house, or, in Louv’s case, helping turtles across the road during migration season. “People are so much on the treadmill. They need to be reminded that once upon a time childhood was different. People have prized and cherished memories of their time in nature, and it’s disdainful for people to think that this has passed,” he says.
Especially children, as they grow from kindergarten to high school, reduce progressively more contact with nature. Parents, generally, are interested in the experiences of children in nature , but as children grow and with them the various school and extracurricular obligations , less and less spend some time close to nature . Things deteriorate dramatically in junior high school and especially in upper high school, where every minute away from books and tuition is ” inexcusable waste” that ” can cost a school or a city.” So the only “plants” that are kept at home , are the “interior school plants, the students.” The children disorder is obvious to the teachers, although its origin cannot be attributed unambiguously to the lack of contact with nature. It is mainly the horrible pressure for success in exams . Children are much more nervous, showing more and more frequently and in greater numbers psychosomatic symptoms and events that have been dropping their performance .
However, the American Institutes for Research conducted a study of the impact of a weeklong residential outdoor education program on at risk youth. Students involved in the program experienced a 27 percent increase in their mastery of science concepts, better problem solving skills, enhanced self esteem, and improved behavior in comparison with the control group stuck in the classroom.
Observations of parents , teachers and of course the scientific studies and surveys indicate that action should be taken in this area . John Sarbanes (Greek origin) in Maryland passed a bill entitled “No Child Left Inside” which would provide funding for integrating environmental education into K-12 curriculum. This bill reminds us of another campaign «No child left behind», however, it shows that it has been understood how valuable is the contact with nature for children (and for adults) . This program will fund the integration of environmental education in the school curriculum.
In Greece the proposal of hoteliers ( White Week) certainly did not aim to treat children , but treat their own financial problems . it was a legitimate desire but hit the wrong door at a time when the Greek society and the Greek family undergo a severe downgrading of their lives ( even without snow skiing ) . The ” White Week ” was rejected summarily . But we must not overlook the start of a dialogue for real , the real need of students to spend at least a few days in nature as part of their schooling. Louv says that these visits should not be a break, but part of school life and part of the curriculum.
Certainly, today, the average Greek family is not in a position to lift the financial burden of a week-long stay for children outside home. But the expansion of the institution of Environmental Education Centers (EEC) , with adequate funding from the Ministry of Education and the local municipalities, can cover a part of the huge demand for outdoor activities. Especially the regional EEC should be supported, in order to maintain their capacity of osting children from cities and adopt programs that will bring them closer to nature as an object of study and as entertainment.
On the other hand, the existing EEC cannot respond to all the demand, since around half the country’s students live in the two large conurbations and most of EEC are quite far away. So, we have to mobilize urban and suburban parks, groves, wetlands, rivers, etc for assembled and programmed outdoor education and partially financed travel costs. At least for the children of the big cities this must be the first priority in the Education for Sustainability. Parents, teachers and the Ministry of Education, should work closely together to give back to the children their lost life close to nature .