Perhaps it was our parents’ generation that were the last to really play ‘outside’ as children , in the fields around them or the natural landscapes of where they were residents. Like Scout, in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, where learning and curiosity was taken into the child’s own hands, empowering them through their senses, their power of observation. Advancing their physical and cognitive development and nurturing a deep relationship with all that’s connected to mother earth.

After the Industrial Revolution, everything and everyone was given a quantifiable value. New knowledge, new scientific discovery and new technological breakthroughs completely severed man from objective reality to a more abstract one. Man moved from direct utilitarianism to romantic attachment to electronic detachment.

Today we find younglings with their noses buried deep in their tablets, telephones or laptops. They are lost in a virtual reality lightyears away from pre-industrial mindsets. Parents wilfully endorse this preoccupation to divert their children into an ‘activity’, barring them from developing social skills, a taste of reality or organic cognitive and physical development. Writer Richard Louv, in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, calls this the ‘Nature Deficit Disorder”. Miraculously, if a child does venture out to play however, other rules and restrictions force them back indoors. Such as in Defence Housing schemes across the country, children are not allowed to play in many parks because neighbours find them noisy, or park restrictions disable them from doing so. Similarly, children aren’t allowed to play in open fields because it may be ‘private property’ and an angry guard will force them off it. They might climb and play in a tree but are subsequently yelled at by a stranger for ‘harming’ the tree. That we tell our children that organised sports in manicured and landscaped lawns are the only form of play acceptable is a problem. We tell them that traditional play is against the rules. This Louv calls ‘the criminalisation of nature play’ – a human obsession with ‘order’. Does a child seriously injure a tree by climbing it? With fast urbanising neighbourhoods, where else will the child go other than virtual reality?

Research indicates that the loss of habitat or the disconnection from nature has serious implications for human health and child development. Exposure to nature and the quality of it has effects on our health at a cellular level. A research study by Gatersleben on Environmental Psychology revealed the benefits of nature in Counselling Psychology. The study found that those living near nature report higher wellbeing and greater satisfaction in life both on an individual and community level. In children , it increases cognitive function and in fact aids children suffering from stressful life events. Nature has also been known to be therapeutic for attention deficit disorders – research has shown that children with these disorders performed exponentially better when taught outside the classroom setting. Contact with animals has health benefits too, such as watching an aquarium is known to decrease blood pressure and stress. Rehabilitation programmes that include animals fared much better than those that did not. Hospital patients with a view of a tree or garden recuperated much faster than those who had a view of a brick wall. Scientists have now rightfully put, that apart from healthy nutrition and adequate sleep, children need strong connection with nature .

Spectacular nature is awe inspiring and in fact instils confidence. Therefore, character building projects such as Adventure Foundation Pakistan are crucial to the society. Brigadier Jan Nadir Khan, a man ahead of his time, in 1980 had the foresight of the significance of this movement. Learning that takes place outside of the classroom harnesses a greater understanding of nature , self-awareness, problem solving skills and how to work in groups. Biologist and theorist, Edward E O Wilson hypothesised ‘biophilia’ which is man’s innate tendency to seek connection with nature and all its forms. Thus, he suggests in his book, to begin all classroom subjects with an open-ended question that sparks curiosity and then breaks down to specifics. By bringing the children outside of the classroom in their own imagination. For instance, did we know that whales and bird songs actually carry rhyme and follow certain laws of composition? Whales in fact have phrases, song durations, rhyming refrains and similar intervals and tones. They also make use of rhyme as mnemonic devices as we humans do to remember complex material. From here, the educator could break down into specifics depending on the subject; be it a music lesson, science or even literature. It is exactly this kind of scientific knowledge that will allure children to the natural world and hopefully cultivate a deeper understanding of their fellow creatures.

To do this teacher training is even more important, courses such as Environmental Conservation Education at many universities bring a new education theory and hence a new paradigm many pedagogues could benefit from. Children are aware of the threats to the environment, but their connection with it is fading or in fact, has already faded. Our children are under the impression that their everyday food comes plastic wrapped. They have no inclination as to what resources were used, who were the labourers involved, and what sacrifices the animals made. This is directly related to the alienation Karl Marx talked about albiet from the opposite end. Increasingly, as Louv points out, nature is something to watch from a distance, to consume and to ultimately ignore.

The health of the earth is egregious to say the least and how the young respond to nature and how they later raise their own children has significant value as it configures how our future cities are shaped. Direct experience is more important than being a spectator. How much longer will we hide away in our homes? We need to involve ourselves in activities that take us into ecological study or simply help us affiliate with the marvel of the natural world.