“What would our lives be like if our days and nights were as immersed in nature as they are in technology? How can each of us help create that life-enhancing world, not only in a hypothetical future, but right now, for our families and for ourselves?” These are the key questions being asked and answered by Richard Louv’s new book The Nature Principle.

I was lucky enough to hear him speak last week in a beautiful old school auditorium in Glendale, Illinois. Parents, teachers, urban planners and social workers were all ears. An inspiring speaker, soft-spoken but with a passionate intensity, Richard paints a hopeful and positive future where our lives are reshaped by the transformative powers of nature.

The three points that I found most powerful from his talk were:

  • Spending time outdoors together becomes the “connective tissue that strengthens family bonds.”
  • The clear benefits of nature to child development, physical, and mental health are now being shown through current research.
  • The idea of utilizing technology and nature experiences to develop the “hybrid mind.” We need to truly thrive and create a world that doesn’t just conserve but restores and builds new natural environments where we work, live and play.

Last month Sunflower sponsored a Get Outside! (G.O.!) event through the Children and Nature Network, a non profit that Richard Louv founded in 2006. We invited families to join us for their first “green hour” (an idea from the Last Child in the Woods field guide) at the little known Yamato Scrub Natural Area in our community. More than 40 adults and children stepped up to our welcome table carrying the strain and worries of their day on their faces and bodies. We gave them a blank nature journal, some crayons and recycled paper for bark and other nature rubbings and sent them off. After an hour on the trail everyone came out laughing, relaxed and excited about all they shared on their walks. The nature principle clearly had a very positive effect!

Exploring nature at our G.O.! event

Making nature rubbings

What if every day you and your children consciously chose to spend a green hour outside? It could be as simple as running through the hose in your backyard, walking around the block to notice trees and flowers, or watching the birds that land on the telephone wires. You could take a picnic dinner to the beach to cool off and wind down before bed with the waves lapping at your feet. Or get really wild climbing some banyan trees in the neighborhood, searching for gopher tortoises in a scrub preserve or camping out in your backyard! Nature is everywhere and it is FREE.

An example of the critical need for developing a “hybrid mind” is given in The Nature Principle: Soldiers in Afghanistan have the difficult and crucial job of detecting roadside bombs. The best bomb spotters were rural people, familiar with hunting, who had spent much of their free time in nature. In contrast, the young soldiers who were raised on Game Boys and weekends at the mall lacked the depth perception, peripheral vision and instinct that would enable them to see what was out of place in the environment. Their focus was narrow, and they were seeing the world in a set format. Some of the officers said they operated “as if the windshield of their Humvee was a computer screen,” and that the gamers were “focused on the screen rather than the whole surrounding.”

In nature, all your senses are alive. When all your senses are developed through time spent outdoors you have a better capacity to keep yourself and others safe in daily and challenging situations throughout life.

As someone who values nature as well as Googling and texting, I love this quote from the book: “There’s no denying the benefits of the internet. But electronic immersion, without a force to balance it creates the hole in the boat–draining our ability to pay attention, to think clearly, to be productive and creative. The best antidote to negative electronic information immersion will be an increase in the amount of natural information we receive.”

I agree with Richard Louv that a great bumper sticker would say: “The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”

How to balance our much-loved technology so that we control it, rather than it controlling us, will be a great discussion for a future blog post. For now, stimulate your developing hybrid mind. Turn off your computer, grab the kids and Get Outside!


© Susan Caruso and Sunflower Creative Arts, 2011