Guest blog by Terry L. Hackett, Chair of the Natural Playground Task Force
Some of my fondest childhood memories came from unstructured play time outside. Playing in the dirt pile in the yard, exploring the woods across the street, wading the stream below the house, building forts in my neighbor’s hemlock tree, getting our drinking water from a mountain spring, climbing trees to get a better look, and endlessly staring at clouds on a warm summer day trying to decide what each cloud was shaped like.
I never really knew how important those simple, childhood experiences in nature affected my development as a person. Sure, these activities helped guide me towards a forestry education and a career in environmental science, but I didn’t realize that “nature play” had such a strong influence on my emotional and spiritual health. That is until I read the book “Last Child in the Woods…Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder”, written by Richard Louv. In that book, I learned that my efforts to help our local youth experience nature, through my involvement in scouts, Camp Chestnut Ridge, and local schools, was not just a good thing to do, but it was the right thing to do.
According to author Richard Louv, “Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses”. Lack of time in Nature is linked to childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Spending time and free play in nature increases physical activity, relieves stress, aids in sensory development, encourages creativity, and helps to focus attention.
After reading this book, I realized that many of the programs I supported also promoted the notion of nature play. That’s why, from the first time I found out about the natural playground at Chestnut Ridge, I knew I had to become involved with the project. When completed, the natural playground will spark imagination, creativity, and spirituality all the while keeping kids active. I believe the natural playground will also help connect children to the environment by allowing them to experience nature “up close and personal” giving each a unique experience, every time they play there.
So when asked to chair the committee that will oversee completion of the natural playground, I couldn’t say no. How could I? Clearly God has been preparing me for this opportunity since I was a child. I didn’t realize those days spent lying on the grass looking up at the shapes the clouds made, God was looking back, shaping me so that I would in turn help shape our community’s youth…youth that are bombarded with too many electronic stimuli and are disconnected from their natural environment.
That’s why the natural playground is important to me. So how about it? Interested in helping my cause? Do you want to see the youth in our community, grow up to be physically, mentally and spiritually healthy? If so, then join me by helping Chestnut Ridge make the natural playground a reality for our youth.