It is commonly said that it takes an entire village to raise strong, healthy children. Yes, it takes a village of people to raise a child, but it also takes the village itself.
A hundred years ago, homes were in villages or cabins in the woods. People were surrounded by wide-open spaces with green as far as the eye could see. That is not the case now; the "village" has changed.
What have we forgotten?
For generations, children grew up outside. They walked to school, rode their bikes and walked barefoot through the grass. Being inside all day was torturous.
According to a recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, today's children spend over seven-and-a-half hours each day plugged into some kind of electronic medium. That's more time than they spend doing anything else besides sleeping. There's mounting evidence that all this electronic input is affecting our children's ability to think for themselves.
In addition, exercise is a forgotten practice. The CDC reports that obesity now affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the United States – triple the rate from just one generation ago.
According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, society is sending kids a message: "Nature is the past, electronics are the future, and the bogeyman lives in the woods."
It's impossible to remove a child from nature without consequences. Louv explains that when nature is replaced with a constant barrage of television and computers, the use of a child's senses is reduced to the size of the screen they stare at day in and day out, becoming packaged and limited.
When nature and play go hand in hand, they have a profound impact on the health and development of children on the road to adulthood.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says, "Play is essential to development as it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth." The AAP also reports that, "Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child."
A study at the University of Essex in England concluded that nature helps recovery from pre-existing stresses or problems, has an immunizing effect that protects from future stresses, and helps concentration and thought clarity.
With TV, computers, cell phones and other devices, children are exposed every day to more images and ads than they can possibly process. It's no wonder kids today are stressed out.
What must we do?
According to the American Public Health Association, "The retreat indoors for many children has environmental advocates worried that children who grow up without memories of fishing in a local stream or hiking through idyllic woods might become adults for whom conserving the environment isn't a priority."
There needs to be an awareness that a child's life without the benefit of nature is lacking an essential component. There is a risk of seeing a failure to thrive in adolescents if they are deprived of critical developmental opportunities.
It is essential that children are introduced back to the natural world. There is nothing more precious than childhood; it is a right, a time of discovery and exploration. And Camp fits exquisitely into that equation.
With four decades of experience as a change agent in youth development and transformation, Peg L. Smith is the chief executive officer of the American Camp Association® (ACA). ACA is the champion of better tomorrows — providing resources, research, and support for developmentally appropriate camp experiences. Learn more at www.CampParents.org or www.ACAcamps.org.