“What’s your Wi-Fi password?” should not be the first thing that blurts out of my 10-year-old cousin’s mouth when I see him for the first time in a year. The ingredients to a wholesome adolescence should include a sprinkling of scraped knees, two cups of getting double-dog dared to eat a squirmy worm and a pinch of creating floral chalk murals on your driveway. Fortunately, that’s what my childhood consisted of. An initiative that focuses on connecting children back to nature through educational experiences is sweeping across the nation: the rewilding our children movement.
Rewilding has been a common term when discussing endangered animal populations, like the rewilding of bison in American prairies. Like the bison, an important population has fallen prey to something that dissects their connection to the land. The machine: phones. The target: children. Young, impressionable minds are a part of this massive movement to indoor spaces and one too many children do not have dirt underneath their fingernails.
Some children do not have access or the opportunity to utilize green spaces, though. Environmental inequality throws severe storms for families with lower socioeconomic status, as suggested in “Childhood Development and Access to Nature” from the University of Colorado. Meaning, non-white races are predominantly exposed to harmful pollutants with less access to nature, based on unequal city zoning. Regardless of access to nature, children are increasingly zoning in on screens, not sky. It’s time to return to the teenieboppers, not screenieboppers.
The rewilding movement is vital to human ingenuity. If children are allowed freer-reign in nature, this allows for them to build independence, create neural pathways for inventive thinking and become stewards of the earth based on their bond with nature. The three main areas that children are inundated with belief-shaping information are at home, at school and through media.
Based on the assumption that human behavior is learned, children with indirect or vicarious experiences with nature may feel less inclined to lead a sustainable life. This ideology percolates through generational cracks as these sustainably-unaware parents raise their children with a mirrored mindset. A 2015 report from the National Environmental Education Advisory Council found that environmental education through a mix of audiences, providers and activities creates outcomes such as academic improvement, stewardship and social equity. Through K-12 curriculum, multi-day experiences in nature and environmentally-minded government agencies, children can get a multidimensional view on how they play a role in shaping the future of the climate.
Sustainability is a habitual practice, not something that can easily happen overnight. If sustainability is a part of early developmental thinking, those seeds might blossom into careers such as environmental engineering, environmental education or climatology. These fields actively contribute to research and knowledge that will increase earth’s longevity and health. An exhibit by The Economic Policy Institute said that in the next 10 years, sustainability strategy and growth strategy will become one in the same and 93 percent of CEOs see sustainability as a crucial part in the success of their business.
It is my hope that through integration of environmental education through schools, awareness in the home and community, children will become more connected to the earth that sustains them. If the rewilding movement gains traction, maybe the next time I see my cousin he’ll take me to his scrappy tree fort that he built with the extra time not spent on a screen.