Why we need action
In 2006, a national conversation was ignited by Richard Louv’s groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In it, Louv traces the causes and impacts of children’s disconnect from nature through interviews with educators, parents and health professionals, as well as with children themselves. Louv describes a growing body of research that reveals the necessity of contact with nature for healthy child development – and for adults, neighborhoods, whole communities and the very future of our society.
The social, physical, cognitive, and psychological benefits of spending time in nature are being recognized by more people every day. Research shows that outdoor play can help develop full use of the senses, protect psychological wellbeing, soothe the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, reduce obesity, and diminish stress and anxiety. In New Hampshire, where more than 32 percent of children aged 6-12 are overweight or obese (source: Foundation for Healthy Communities) and more than 9 percent of those aged 4-17 have at some point been diagnosed with ADHD (source: CDC.gov), the need for a nature-based culture shift are clear. (For more information about the benefits to children and youth from experiences in nature, visit the national Children & Nature Network’s research & resources page – click here.)
Yet as of 1990, the radius around the home where children were allowed to roam on their own had shrunk to one-ninth of what it had been in 1970, and their “free” time is now largely structured. The reasons are many: lack of knowledge, busy schedules, limited access to nature, fear of strangers, popularity of video games, TV, and computers, perceived safety risks, fear of lawsuits, loss of recess periods, and so forth. Well-meaning but frightened or uninformed parents, school systems and media are keeping kids out of the fields and the woods. By moving childhood indoors, we are depriving children of a full connection to the world. The implications – for children’s physical and mental health, for the future of our natural resources, and even for our communities’ economies – are far-reaching.
The NH Children in Nature Coalition was formed in response to these challenges, with the ambition to get today’s children and families to explore and embrace their wild roots, and simply spend more time outdoors – for the mental and physical wellbeing it brings to people, and the long-term benefits it can have for our society and the earth.
History of the Coalition
In January of 2007, in response to growing local and national concern about the increasing disconnect between children and nature, staff from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department’s Public Affairs division gathered partners to discuss the possibility of creating a statewide initiative on the topic, and to propose a summit focused on the goal, “Leave No Child Inside.”
Soon, a steering committee formed, comprised of staff from various organizations and groups, including NH Parks and Recreation Association, NH DRED/Division of Parks, NH Fish and Game, NH Department of Environmental Services, University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, the Student Conservation Association, UNH Cooperative Extension, and the Appalachian Mountain Club.
That spring, the steering committee worked to plan the first New Hampshire “Leave No Child Inside” Summit, which took place at the Public Service of New Hampshire Five Rivers Auditorium in Manchester, NH, on May 30, 2007, and served as a kickoff to the issue and the organization that would become the Children and Nature Coalition. More than 100 people attended the Summit, with participants representing health, education, environment, recreation, media, culture and the built environment. Dr. Susan Lynch served as Honorary Chairperson, delivering a video message to the gathering; and Dr. Cheryl Charles, President of the national Children and Nature Network, delivered the keynote address. Click here to download the full report from the Leave No Child Inside Summit. (PDF)
A follow-up meeting was held in June to review the Summit Summary and Strategies, and organize working groups.
In summer and fall of 2007, the working groups started meeting regularly, to name the initiative; develop a mission statement and goals for the group; determine messages, audiences and communication methods; and to plan the “Leave No Child Inside” Forum.
The partnership of groups, organizations and individuals supporting the effort was named the “New Hampshire Children in Nature Coalition” in fall of 2007. The coalition’s “Leave No Child Inside” Forum was held at the Capital Center for the Arts in Concord in November 2007, involving 240 people in working sessions and more than 600 in a public forum featuring “Last Child in the Woods” author Richard Louv. The event was co-hosted by the NH Children in Nature Coalition, the Sierra Club, and the Children & Nature Network. Click here to download the report from the Leave No Child Inside Public Forum. (PDF)
As the need for organizing coalition efforts and structures emerged, the Organizational Development Committee was formed. The group is currently working on setting up coalition structures and operating procedures, including designing the procedures for writing and receiving potential grant monies, using designated fiscal agents for each project. As of spring 2008, the coalition is preparing to register with the State of New Hampshire.
Dozens of volunteers remain actively involved with the NH Children in Nature Coalition at many levels (learn about volunteer opportunities). The original Steering Committee evolved into the Mission and Goals Committee, which is now working on the coalition’s strategic plan; and the Messages, Audiences and Communications Committee has met regularly to develop ideas for communications and outreach. In addition, the ad hoc We Do Science Committee is working to connect nature experiences with New Hampshire science curricula; and the new ad hoc Natural Leaders Committee is devising a program for high school students to promote youth environmental leadership.
Today, awareness continues to grow while the various working groups and “member” organizations do their part to carry out the coalition’s mission.