Guest Post: A New Appreciation for Connecting Kids to Nature

This post was written by Emory University student and NWF intern Jessica Deere.

Growing up in a rural town in southeast Missouri, I never realized children could be disconnected from nature. I spent time camping and fishing in nearby rivers and lakes. Even though I lived “in town” there was a field with trees in the turn-rows across the street.

Now living in Atlanta and studying Environmental Studies at Emory University, I have become aware of how children’s understanding of and experience in nature has changed. As Richard Louv states in his book, Last Child in the Woods, “Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.”

Jessica Deere

I remember talking to new friends at college about our childhoods; I was amazed at how little time some of them spent outside in nature. I began to feel fortunate that I grew up in an environment that allowed the opportunity to experience nature. Through my internship with Na’Taki Osborne Jelks, Manager of Education and Advocacy Programs at NWF’s Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta, I feel privileged to have been able to participate in efforts to encourage the importance of children developing and maintaining a relationship with nature. One such example was the 5th Annual Urban Forestry Festival at the Atlanta Outdoor Activity Center on last month, where children were made aware of how they can experience nature within their own communities.

When I got to college I decided to expand my love for nature (and Jane Goodall I must add) and volunteered with Roots & Shoots, a program of the Jane Goodall Institute that inspires youth through community service and service learning. For three semesters now, I have gone to Mary Lin Elementary School in Atlanta twice a month to teach a third grade classroom an environmental lesson. The joy expressed in their faces as they learn about the environment and participate in the interactive activities is evidence that children should be connected to nature, even if only for their own pleasure.  The kids love telling about their own experiences in nature and we love to hear about them going home and teaching what they learned to a parent, family member, or friend. We do not force the children to enjoy the lesson, go home and try it out, or ask us not to leave because they want to participate in another nature activity. They do all of this on their own. Nature makes them happy.

In my work at NWF I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of great things – from a GA NCLI Summit on Children and the Outdoors to the previously mentioned Urban Forestry Festival. Throughout my education, volunteer work, and involvement with NWF, I am continuously made aware of the importance of connecting children to nature.

For more information on how to connect kids to nature, visit our Be Out There page.