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Children Don't Climb Trees Anymore

By Matthieu Ricard on June 17, 2015

Recently I was in eastern France and had a chance to walk in the countryside. A friend who had accompanied me said: “Once upon a time, during cherry season, we would all be up in the trees filling our boots and arms with cherries. Nowadays the cherries stay on the branches. The children don’t climb trees anymore.”

In fact, several studies have shown that children in urban areas in Europe and North America play ten times less in public places, especially in the street, than thirty years ago. Their contact with nature is often restricted to a background image on a computer screen. Their games are becoming increasingly solitary, violent, stripped of beauty, wonder, and any notion of camaraderie.

Between 1997 and 2003, the percentage of children aged nine to twelve who spent time playing together outside, or went hiking, or gardening fell by half, This phenomenon is linked to a number of factors: more and more people are living in urban areas, “the street” has become more dangerous in parents’ minds because of traffic, potentially dangerous encounters, etc.

In his book Last Child in the Woods, the author and journalist Richard Louv writes that we are raising a generation of young people who are suffering from “nature deficit disorder” as a result of having lost virtually all contact or interaction with their natural surroundings. Louv cites this remark from a young student: “I prefer playing at home because that’s where I have all my electronic stuff.” There is a lot of research to suggest that intensification in contact with nature has a major impact on a child’s cognitive and emotional development.

Finland has a reputation of having the best education in Europe. Several factors have contributed to this including the fact that the teaching profession is very highly regarded there and the teachers are given a lot of latitude for choosing the pedagogic techniques that seem most appropriate to their pupils. The Finns are careful to find a balance between hard work in the classroom and group play outdoors. These activities improve the children’s faculties for empathy and their emotional intelligence.