When Rachel Carson wrote her seminal book Silent Spring in 1962, she awoke a generation to the dangers of synthetic pesticides and the alarming possibility of a spring with no birds singing. Now, it seems the time has come to raise the alarm for a different silent spring that perhaps Carson didn’t anticipate––one where few children are outside making noise and enjoying play and exploration outdoors.
The trend toward an “indoor childhood” is alarming. In Canada, the average screen time for children is 44 hours per week and only 12 percent of Canadian children are getting their recommended level of daily activity. This is compounded by extensive media coverage of childhood abductions that feeds growing fears of “stranger danger,” creating a generation of parents that are filled with anxiety whenever their child is out of sight. Reversing this trend is a significant challenge.
So what to do? Thankfully, recess has yet to be cancelled, so at Evergreen, a Canadian environmental charity, our focus is on taking advantage of the schoolyard as a place still considered relatively safe and with significant influence on the life of a child. For almost 20 years we have been working with schools across Canada to create play and learning environments that incorporate the key building blocks of trees and shrubs, topography and seating areas–– providing support through the design, planning, fundraising and implementation process.
Separate from our work with individual schools, we’ve also been working with a number of school authorities to create comprehensive strategies to support all of their schools. This includes clearer approvals processes, design guidelines and standards, annual teacher training programs and centralized support for procurement of key materials and supplies.
Just 18 months ago, our charity opened a new community environmental centre in the heart of Toronto. Here we host day visits by schools, two summer camp programs and free weekend programming where the focus is on exploring nature right in the heart of the city. The hopeful and exciting news is that our programs have become sellout successes––meaning that there is a growing appetite amongst parents and teachers to increase their children’s time outdoors, and we must seize these opportunities with appropriate services and programs.
My optimism is further encouraged by international exchange and cooperation, which has been invaluable to our organization. We are proud to be a part of the nascent International School Grounds Alliance, which includes a wonderfully talented and passionate group of organizations and individuals from countries around the world. I encourage readers to share whatever they are doing to reconnect children and nature with others, as I know our organization has harvested a great crop of ideas small and large from other places and adapted them to benefit children in many Canadian communities.
“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder,” wrote Rachel Carson, “he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.”
Evergreen is a national charity that makes cities more livable. To learn more about Evergreen and how to bring nature into your home, classroom and school ground, visit us at evergreen.ca.
By Cam Collyer, Program Director, Evergreen