Richard Louv would rather hike than write, but the time spent putting pen to paper has been well worth it. As a journalist and author of eight books, he focuses on connecting the younger generations to nature. Louv is co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization that seeks to do something that has become increasingly lost to children through the wires of technology: bring them back to nature and the great outdoors.
“I was actually a kid once,” Louv said during a recent visit to Atlanta. He was speaking to a group of Children & Nature Supporters on the eve of the 10-year anniversary for his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. “I spent a lot of my boyhood in the woods. Those were my woods and I had my special place in nature.”
Louv’s other book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder also attributes the absence of nature to the diminishing rates of children’s mental and physical health.
“Nature deficit-disorder,” although not a medical diagnosis, is a phrase that has unlocked the conversation about the future of children. While the phrase may seem foreign to some readers, more and more parents are beginning to realize that the way children play is much different now.
“My woods still exist,” Louv said. “Even though those bulldozers came. I can still go to those woods, even if it is just in my mind.”
That is what the core of Children & Nature Network is about- a movement to get children outside. And Louv himself admits that the movement began before his books, but that they were a tool to spark a conversation around nature.
“It’s fundamental to our humanity to want nature,” Louv said. “It’s about being fully alive. And it extends beyond the benefits of health and cognition in the outdoors.”
The largest concern is parent’s fear of releasing their children. As Louv said, “this isn’t the old days where kids go outside and come back when the streetlights go on. Fear continues to grow, even though we know better.”
The number for violent crimes of children outside the home and the number for stranger abductions is relatively low, Louv pointed out. However it is still too many, but not as much as in the past.
“The good news is that every now and then, there are concepts that catch on,” said Louv. “Social change can happen, and that leads to political change. Children & Nature is showing these signs, but we are not there yet.”
Atlanta’s Children & Nature Network campaign, Get Outdoors Georgia, is run by the Georgia State Parks and touts the ways families can participate in activities at the state parks.
Here are a few other ways to get your children outside in Atlanta.
1. The Atlanta Beltline
This Eastside trail extends from the edge of Piedmont Park to Inman Park’s Irwin Street. Stops along the two-mile paved trail include a soccer and multi-sport field and skate park. Every few months, the Beltline PLAYDAY encourages children to gather for a day of multi-sport and multi-activity play.
2. Atlanta Track Club Kilometer Kids
An incentive-based program that encourages children ages 7 to 12 to lace up their shoes and run in their community. The program also partners with the Boys & Girls Club of Atlanta and has motivated more than 5,000 children since 2007.
3. FarmStar Living
This website and app was created by founder Mary Blackmon of Atlanta, but it spans nationwide. Similar to the mission get children outside playing, Farm Star Living connects families with local farms and includes many seasonal farm activities, that just happen to be outdoors.
Nationwide, Children & Nature Network hosts a total of 369 campaigns in 48 states. Find the campaigns for your state here.