Over the last several years I have heard the term Nature Deficit Disorder finding its way into more conversations. First coined in Richard Louv’s popular book Last Child in the Woods, this idea has become the drum and beat to which many organizations, laws, and businesses have come to march, mine included. The obvious premise being that today’s children are not spending enough time outside and that this has far greater consequences than perhaps any of us realize. Having read extensively on the subject, I am not sure how then my wife and I ended up buying my son and daughter several new Wii games and a 3DS for Christmas this year.
I do understand actually. I am concerned with the amount of screen time today’s kids are exposed to, mine especially, but at the same time I have a hard time depriving them of the toys they see other kids playing with and am not so sure it’s a good idea either. Certainly there is a balance between technology and nature. And it’s not like I didn’t saddle up to some Pitfall, Centipede, and Ms. Pacman when I was growing up. Plus, there is some validity to the argument that today’s kids will need to develop skills with technology at an earlier age. My son’s teacher suggested the Wii helps with fine motor skills in younger kids, and I’ll be darned if it hasn’t taught my son how to throw a Frisbee. I do make a conscious effort, however, to get my kids outside as much as I possibly can. Fortunately for Richmonders, we have at our disposal one of the best urban parks in the United States, the James River Park.
More often than not my wife and I visit the James River Park with our two children, ages six and five. It’s our Sunday morning “go to” when the inevitable “what are we going to do today?” arises as the morning caffeine fix begins to wane. One of our favorite spots in the winter is the Wetlands. Located just downstream of the Pony Pasture parking lot and boasting a series of trails through the woods and along the river, it’s the perfect spot to let the kids lead the way- explore for themselves.
We stop along the river and skip rocks, build boats and forts from driftwood, but more often than not we try to let the kids direct the action and more often than not they find something to entertain themselves we wouldn’t have even thought about. It’s good for their confidence and their imagination. Last week my son crawled into a hollow log to where just his feet were sticking out. My daughter and I banged on the outside and could hear his muffled laughter from deep within.
The Wetlands is a perfect place to take kids to ride their bikes in the winter as well. There are plenty of single track trails that are great for young mountain bikers, and a wide loop around the section of park is just fine for BMX bikes and even cruisers too.
I sometimes take a pair of binoculars. The kids love looking at the buffleheads, which stack up in the riffles downstream of Pony Pasture Rapids by the dozens in December, January and February. These small, fish eating ducks seldom sit still for long and are usually buzzing up and down the river like swarms of bees.
It’s not just kids suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder either. Adults need their time in the woods too. Leave your phones in the car. It isn’t easy, but I always feel rewarded in the end, and I have never missed a call, email, or text that was of any great importance.
Sometimes I realize that these are about the only moments during the week when I can let my mind wander from its usual mundane routine, allow it to run out ahead of us, climb some vines, spot a pair of black ducks tucked in behind a rock in the middle of the river, stop to admire the raccoon footprints in the mud along the bank, before settling back into the all too familiar routines of the work week.
I have the James River Park to thank for that outlet.