The Dictionary and the Eclipse of Nature

Did you know that the 2007 Oxford Children’s Dictionary, aimed at seven-year olds, dropped words such as ‘almond’, ‘blackberry’ and ‘crocus’ and replaced them with ‘analogue’, ‘block graph’ and ‘celebrity’?

The 2012 edition reinforced this break with nature. This process of writing nature out of young minds. Heron, herring, kingfisher, leopard, lark, lobster, magpie, minnow, mussel, otter, ox, oyster and panther have all been deleted. Their replacements, ‘cut and paste’, ‘broadband’, ‘blog’, and ‘chatroom’.

Is this just a recognition of the changing times, or is the loss of these words, this connection, more serious than that?

Should We Be Concerned?

Is this lack of empathy with, knowledge of, and time in nature a contributing factor in errant behaviour and general physical and mental health, both amongst children and adults?

In the 1950s at least 40% – 50% of children still played in natural areas. That figure has dropped to 10% today, with 40% of children never playing outdoors at all (UK figures but I doubt we are much different in New Zealand).

Projections are that 1 in 3 New Zealand children will be obese by 2025.

Our children are living through and subjected to a perfect storm of junk food, rapidly evolving technology, over protective parents and far too much couch and screen time.

I’m Alarmed I Would Say, Not Simply Concerned

When I grew up in the 1960s we lived in an old house with a big swamp down the hill behind the section. The hours and hours we spent in that swamp. Trying (unsuccessfully) to spear frogs with bamboo spears, and building bridges out of rotting timber, also not that successful. All this without adult supervision.

Depending on what school myself and my brother and sisters were attending at the time, getting to assembly on time involved anywhere from a 1.5km to 3 km walk or cycle each way. Only on particularly wet and miserable days was there an option of a car ride to the school gate.

Now there are articles in the news about the traffic jams outside many schools as parents’ jostle for a space to park and pick up junior.

Have You Ever Looked at Old Photos?

Have a look at old photos prior to the 1970s. Everyday photos of everyday people. One thing that strikes me is in general how lean most of the people captured on film are. Even in black and white, they radiate health and energy.

It’s Not However About Back in My Day

No, it is not about back in my day. Those days are gone. The somewhat easy-going attitudes found in Mums and Dads from those times have been replaced with a pervasive fear exhibited by today’s parents about the safety of their children.

A quick study of some statistics however shows that this fear is unfounded and that the 2000s child is no more at risk than children have ever been. But this is not what the sensationalist media would have us believe.

What It Is About is the ‘Extinction of Experience’

Studies have shown that children from seven years to twelve years who have spent time in nature tend to think of nature as something somewhat magical. As these children become adults they are more likely to champion and identify with environmental issues. On the other hand, those who did not have these experiences tend to regard nature as hostile, irrelevant and are indifferent to its loss.

It is not only about champions however. Evidence shows that people are healthier, physically fitter and better adjusted, while children’s behaviour improves, if they have access to nature, whether that be gardens, parks, the river, the sea or the bush.

What Does That Mean for a Company Such as River Valley?

One of four functions of River Valley’s purpose is as follows:

  • The fourth function is to empower and motivate staff and departing guests to re-evaluate their relationship with the natural world and take positive action from that re-evaluation

For many people and families, the question would be where to start. We offer that chance to really get at one with the natural world in several ways, but one of the most immersive is a multi-day river trip. Rather than a sales spiel, here is a review from Sarah that sums up the experience perfectly.

“We did a 3-day 2-night trip down the Rangitikei River in Feb. 4 families – 8 adults 8 kids aged between 8 and 12. It was such a fantastic experience! The guides were just outstanding with our children allowing them (and us!) to adventure and fully experience the river and all its fun whilst always adhering to professionalism and safety. A great way of connecting and playing together as a team with everyone involved. As well as the rapids being great fun we had inflatable kayaks, side walks to hidden waterfalls and canyons, bombing spots, water fights and even the raft made into a slippery slide! Campfires and great food in the evening to top it all off. We will definitely be back for more trips. I can’t recommend it enough DO THIS TRIP!!”

Time to get some nature therapy. Enough said.

Brian Megaw

Kids enjoying the outdoors on some of our multi-day rafting trips down the Rangitikei River.