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On-Site Staff / Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Staff Leadership and Management

Youth Development Showdown: Nature vs. Technology

Take a moment to reflect on the last time you went on a hike, a camping trip, or any other type of outdoor experience. What was your mindset?

How would you compare your attitude and outlook to your typical 9-to-5 self? I would bet there’s a stark difference. I experience this consistently with my two girls. The last time around was a Spring Break trip to Mammoth Lakes, a mountain town nestled in the Eastern Sierras. As much as my family loves the outdoors, my kids are not immune to their own 9-to-5 self.

For them, this means mobile devices. They are part of a worldwide reality of kids on screens.

My philosophy on this reality is always about balance. After all, we live in an era that requires strong digital literacy skills and the ability to leverage technology to communicate, collaborate, and get work and projects done. Having said this, my kids on “devices” is always a concern. I worry about my children not being able to tap into a natural curiosity and imagination that they possess.

Worst yet, I worry most about them not having those magical childhood experiences of make-believe!

For those reading this and sharing the same concern, no need to fear. The remedy is here! It’s called the Great Outdoors. In my 10 years of traveling with my children to the mountains, lakes, rivers, beaches, trails, etc., it’s the outdoors that consistently revealed and repaired my children’s imagination and childhood ingenuity. Plenty of research supports the importance of the outdoors in the lives of children. This same research speaks directly to our need as out-of-school time professionals to prioritize the designing and offering of outdoor experiences for our students. Robert Louv, one of the pre-eminent voices on this topic, and author of Last Child in the Woods has coined the phrase of Nature Deficit Disorder, which describes the psychological, physical and cognitive costs of human alienation from nature, particularly for children in their vulnerable developing years.

As we design and prepare enrichment experiences for our students during the 2019-2020 school year, it is to our benefit, and that of our students, that we include outdoor or nature programming into our classes and offerings.

Being from California, I was somewhat ignorant of the challenges that other parts of the country experienced in terms of weather and climate. With this in mind, we can still connect with museums, centers, and parks to determine what can be done year-round to keep our youth connected to nature. I have to admit that as youth development professionals, it can be hard to believe that our 21st Century, Tech-Infused youth would pay attention to nature. From personal experience, I say that there’s hope. My YouTube following daughters, who perceive “YouTubers” as celebrities, stood on the edge of a stream, picked up a branch that resembled a fishing pole, and proceeded to “fish.” She even went as far as asking me what type of fish I wanted. What this experience told me was that for as much technology that our youth are immersed in, their imagination and creativity still lies beneath! Strip away all the beautiful 4K screens and addictive interfaces and games, and you have a child’s imagination waiting to be uncovered.

Reflecting on this, I dare say that the burden of connecting children to youth falls on us as adults to curate these experiences. Sadly, many of the adults in our students’ lives are not paying attention or just are not in a position to make this happen. This provides yet another opportunity for us to have a lifelong impact on the lives of youth in the form of connecting everyday learning to the natural world. I end this blog by quoting Robert Louv himself on the importance of making this connection.

“An environment-based education movement–at all levels of education–will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.”  ― Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Speaking of fish, I had a lox bagel and OJ for breakfast. It was not wild caught though!

Author: @carlossantini

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