Monday, March 19, 2012

Where the wild things aren't

Where are the wild things? Not in children's books (or, to be accurate, less so with every decade that passes). So says a team of researchers who studied Caldecott winners and honor books from the past 70 years. The recent study determined that scenes depicting nature have declined steadily over time.

That's not really all that surprising, is it? It mirrors what's happening in our lives. Most children spend the vast majority of their time indoors or in built environments (e.g., cities), so why would we expect characters in books to do otherwise?

And does it really matter, anyway? As one discussant in a recent LinkedIn discussion asked, should we be disturbed by this trend?


I'll let you come to your own conclusions on this, but first, a few items of interest.
  • Children who live near natural settings experience less stress. (source)
  • Kids who move to greener locations demonstrate improved cognitive abilities. (source)
  • Kids with ADHD have milder symptoms when they have regular "green time"--time spent in nature. (source)
  • Symptoms of ADHD decrease immediately following a 20-minute walk through a park. (source)
  • Inner-city girls with a view of nature (e.g., trees outside their windows) have greater self-discipline and are better able to concentrate. (source)
  • Areas with trees provide better opportunities for play, and play is an important part of childhood development. (source)
  • Young children who spend time in "outdoor classrooms" have longer attention spans and better motor coordination than children who spend only short periods of time outdoors. (source

What if you're all grown up, or don't suffer from ADHD? Not to worry, nature affects adults, too.
  • People living in green areas are less likely to procrastinate, find their problems less overwhelming, and are better able to overcome them. (source)
  • People living in housing near green areas (trees and grass) are less likely to be involved in domestic violence. (source)
  • People living in areas with more natural settings are healthier. (source)
  • Patients with a view of natural scenery recover faster from surgery and request less pain medication. (source)
  • College students with natural views outside their dorm windows are better able to concentrate. (source)
So what do you think? Do you think there's reason for concern?


  1. This is rather disturbing, at least from where I sit. Our technological advancements are great, but I think we must keep it balanced. Living out in the world is so important for growth, not just for kids but for all of us. Nature always centers me. Geez...I hope we never lose that.

  2. I agree. I think it's easy to get swept up in technology, to the detriment of not only our planet, but our own well-being. The trick is to convince kids (and adults) that nature can be just as cool as the latest gaming system/ipad/smart phone. After all, without nature, none of those things would exist.

  3. Thanks, Alison, for drawing attention to this. It is so important! In Philadelphia there is a growing effort to have green spaces in the city and to plant trees. Even one or two street trees can completely change the energy on a desolate city block. As for myself, I get my nature fix in some woods near our house (Philadelphia is blessed to have the largest urban park system in the country.) I hope that Nature will find its way back into children's literature!!

    1. So glad to hear Philly's got a great park system. I really think a strong park system can be a big part of the solution!

  4. Thank Alison for saying what most of us know who work with children and saying it very well. This is a soapbox for me and always has been.

    I recently read a book that sited the fact that moving away from nature and introducing children to technology and over using it has begun to hardwire our kids differently. Our evolution on multiple levels requires regular interaction with nature, and I do not think they were talking about the 5 minutes of quality time in the sun getting to and from the car being shuttled to school and activities.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Diane. I've read the same research. Our brains are working differently, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when contact with nature provides all the benefits noted above (more, probably), it makes no sense to deprive ourselves or our kids of its benefits. We'd probably all be less stressed if we stopped for 45 minutes of "nature time" each day.

  5. I think schools need to introduce as much nature to kids as they can in the area around the playground. Identify any and all trees around the school, plant flowers, be aware of what animals may live near by. I remember being an assistant in a classroom where ospreys were nesting outside. Instead of learning about ospreys, the kids were told to come away from their windows and get beck in their seats for science. The eggs hatched, the babiies fledged, and a great opportunity was lost. It drove me crazy.

  6. Oh, Deb. That just kills me! They would have learned (and retained) so much more by watching the osprey, even for just five minutes each class period, to record what was happening.

  7. It certainly bothers me. Good thing there are writers like you who are working against that trend!