Lying in my soft denim sleeping bag in the bed of my parents’ long bed Chevy truck, my sister asleep on one side of me, my cousin on the other, I squirmed. Despite having had a full day exploring Lake of the Ozarks, I didn’t feel sleepy. There was too much going on around me. Through the canopy of the trees, I took in the inky black sky filled with shimmering stars and glowing planets. We were miles from any town lights, so the constellations and Milky Way were on glorious display. The adults (I was eight at the time) were sitting around the lowering campfire, conversing in quiet tones. The embers glowed, and the faint scent of wood smoke wafted my way. Mosquitos droned in the air around me. Suddenly the adults stopped talking and in unison turned in my direction. It felt like there was a holy hush on the land. I carefully leaned over the edge of the trailer bed and trained my eyes below it on the same area they were gazing at. In the low glow of the fire, I saw four tiny skunk kits gamboling about, and watching them closely was Mama Skunk.
Once they had explored underneath the truck bed, a few of the braver kits ventured so close to the camp that they actually walked underneath the adults’ lawn chairs. The adults held their breath. The babies stayed and played only a short time—likely only ten minutes or so—and then they wandered off into the darkness. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief, and I finally drifted off to sleep.
It’s a beautiful memory, but it’s just one of my many memories of my family’s outdoor camping adventures. While my summers as a child were filled with romping barefoot in the wild behind my home, climbing the massive evergreen tree at the side of my house, and weaving swings out of the branches of my neighbor’s willow tree, today’s children pursue different interests in the summer. These days, my family and I live in a typical suburban Florida community that is packed with kids of all ages. I see them every school morning waiting at the bus stop. But when summer comes, the kids disappear from sight. While there are many who participate in summer camps, both indoor and outdoor, I suspect many more spend their summers holed up in the comfort of their air conditioning, staring at some sort of a screen.
Andrew Pudewa has a term for this malady: “Nature Deficit Disorder.” Originally coined by author Richard Louv in a book titled the same, Louv blames many maladies on this separation of children from nature, including poor physical health, behavioral problems, and a lack of concern for the environment. Sadly, today’s children are less connected to the outside world than in previous generations. There are too many other shinier attractions competing for their attention: cell phones, social media, and video gaming, to name just a few.
Now that summer is finally here, vow to help turn the tide by encouraging your children and students to get outside. To assist you in this endeavor, we are offering Andrew’s talk, “Nature Deficit Disorder,” for free. Hopefully it will motivate you, in turn, to inspire your children and students to get outdoors more frequently. Picnic in the park on a sunny day. Splash in a puddle after a rainstorm. Take a walk. Go fishing. Camp. The outdoor world, filled with beauty, adventure—and yes, even skunks—awaits. Step outside and start building your own outdoor memories today.
Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.