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Children and Nature

Children today are exposed to adult themes at an early age. As children grow, they can also be exposed to cyber bullying, alcohol and drugs, vandalism, injury from accidents, mental illness, depression and suicide. And yet many parents fear exposing their children to nature, even if it is in their own back yard. It seems paradoxical that in Australia, a relatively sparsely populated country with a wealth of nature, parents are often not encouraging their children to explore and interact with the environment.

Echoing much of the basis of Richard Louv’s book “The Last Child in the Woods” where he spoke of the negative impact on children who were not accessing natural environments, my research indicates that Australian parents are “cocooning” a generation of children.

One community worker recently based her city gardening program on reconnecting children with playing in “wild spaces”. This amounted to anywhere outside that was natural and open and involved interaction between children and nature; in this case a vegetable garden. She had started the program when she noticed that the children with behavioural issues were largely restricted in their play activities because parents were reluctant to allow their children to be adventurous. This and many other gardening based programs for children here and overseas, have identified that when children were engaged in gardening, or even in a “green” environment, many of their negative behaviours disappeared. Some researchers even found conditions such as ADHD moderated in a garden environment.

In many ways modern children have been denied the opportunity to express their natural instinct of running, hiding, digging and getting dirty as previous generations have done. It is understandable that there is a common reluctance among adults to allow children to do things that might put them at risk. Now nature in all of its many forms, including the garden, is seen as a risk. Over the past few years there has been a strong trend for adults to restrict children from contact with a range of natural environments including parks, gardens and even the home garden.

People no longer seek out opportunities to interact with nature as they have in the past but many older people speak of the past when as children they would explore their neighbourhoods and any other environment they encountered. This is now happening less frequently as adults feel the need to protect children against a perceived threat. There has also been a change of attitude towards “getting your hands dirty”.

Consumerism and technology now dominate our society with children early consumers and parent’s eager suppliers. This may not be a bad thing in itself, but surely children would benefit from a more balanced lifestyle where they can explore nature and interact in a garden that is usually no more than a doorway away.

It would make sense for adults to encourage children to spend time in a garden, to work together and enjoy their own green space. Children would be more engaged in the natural world and be exposed to the positive affect of nature. By doing this the incidents of negative behaviours may reduce and it might be an opportunity to have children more content and less stressed; able to grow into well balanced adults. They might even encourage the next generation to be fully engaged in gardening as a celebration of life.

Chris Reed

PhD., MHSc, Grad.Dip.Disability, Dip. Teach, Dip.Hort. Dip. Man, Cert Landscape. 

TEDxTalks: Seeing the Unseen  |  Tim Chan | 26.11.13 (version 6)

Typed:  How do you see me? When you talk to me, I don’t respond. I flap my arms, I make noises. I may even lie down on the floor.

This is what you see: severe autism.

Severe autism means I can only process one thing at a time . I have to work hard to understand things. Because of this I am constantly anxious and overwhelmed.

When I was a toddler, I was way behind in my development. I didn’t turn my head when others called me. I didn’t speak. I didn’t respond to people. I’d play with toys by lining them up or spinning anything that turns. When I get overwhelmed, I’d lie on the floor, eyes shut, hands over ears and be totally in my own world.

my Mum saw something else the unseen person inside. The potential to be fully human and live a satisfying life. 

experts told Mum that Autism can’t be cured, it’s a lifelong disorder. They told her to accept that I would never talk. They told her to accept that I would never communicate with the world. Essentially, they told her to accept that I would never connect to anyone as a person, an individual, with my own ideas and dreams. That would have happened if she had listened.

For years I was trapped inside my own world. But because Mum believed in me, I’ve come to see what she sees.

I had a lot of trouble learning in the way most children learn. My mum set up an intensive home program to teach me when I was three years old. One exercise involved the simultaneous presentation of two toys, a dog and a ball. I learned to point to the right thing when the therapist said the word “dog” or “ball”. We worked at the drill many times every day before I finally figured it out. One day, I suddenly saw that the toys had their own particular names attached, and these labels would always be the same. Once I understood this, I was able to pass the drill, that is, 100% correct in 30 consecutive trials.  It took 3 months.  That’s how the next step, understanding numbers and language, became possible.

At the beginning, counting, simple additions and subtractions seemed like impossible hurdles for me. Then Mum noticed that I loved to blow things off the staircase. So she cut out little green bottles from paper. We sang “10 green bottles sitting on the wall” and I got to blow the bottles off as we sang. After about 12 months of this and other songs, number games and stories, I was finally able to understand numbers. I went on to master multiplication and division, fractions, decimals and basic algebra in a matter of weeks. 

But above all, I love language. Language helps me to dissect ideas and I use visual maps to play with them. For example, I use the analogy of my house when doing assignments.

The topic is like the whole house. I allocate each idea into different rooms. When I answer questions, I look in the relevant room to extract the information. Using this visual map, I compare and contrast by examining the layout and functions of different rooms. Synthesis means I take the furniture from different rooms and put them together. Analysis involves taking the structure apart and rebuilding each section.

I love language, but I have dyspraxia, meaning I can’t talk. It’s very frustrating because I often get ignored and people don’t see me as intelligent

But then when I was 9, my mum discovered a way for me to communicate. I started typing on a voice output machine with a keyboard, with someone supporting my wrist. But even typing was a struggle, because I am not always able to control my movements. I had to learn to hold images in my mind. To focus on hitting the right keys, I imagined myself piloting some amazing machine, reaching out with my hand to press buttons on the control panel. Every time someone different supports me, I have to struggle to adjust to their styles. But today, after thousands of hours of practice, I’m approaching independence.

This talk is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, To me, giving a talk is a minor miracle because my anxiety level is so high.

But with typing, I get the opportunity to express myself and be acknowledged. I get to do things most people take for granted, like graduate from a mainstream high school, write and give talks, and connect to others as a person. Writing has helped me work through some of my frustration and pain. It has helped me through some very difficult times and enabled me to connect with and be inspired by the stories of some amazing people.  Writing means that I can sit here and tell you today that the kid in the supermarket or on the street flapping his hands and making noises is me. Hello.

I can think and communicate and dream. I want to be an author one day and share my story. I want to help people get the most out of themselves. Most of all, I want people to see the unseen, beyond the labels and outer packaging. I want them to see me.