What do we value?

My theme this month is “working toward a better future.” That probably is a pretty common and predictable topic at the turn of the year, when it seems as if we have a new chance to “get things right.” 

NOTE: every day actually is a new chance. Every hour. But many of us do tend to think about it more around New Year’s.

How “right” we can get things depends in part on the cards in our hand, however. Last year at this point, for instance, certain decisions already had been made. Votes had been cast, and irrevocable changes set in motion. We dodged a few bullets in 2017, but some dies already had been cast by this time last year. In this context, I’ve been thinking about a pair of “takes”  on current events, by two commentators whom I respect.

4-27-08 Al DIAZ / MIAMI HERALD STAFF — Leonard Pitts Jr. Miami Herald Staff.

The first is a recent column by the ever-perceptive Leonard Pitts, Jr., a columnist based at the Miami Herald. He wrote that “our sense of what is allowable and acceptable on the public stage, have been eroding for years, but 2017 saw the process accelerate like Usain Bolt. It was the year things that are not supposed to happen happened all day, every day.”

He goes on to lay out the argument that we’ve come to a place in the public discourse where “anger, coarseness, political destabilization, and a trickle-down nastiness [is] visible both in anecdotes and in hate-crime statistics.”

But he doesn’t leave it there. He’s one of my favorite columnists because he always takes it to the next step. He ended his column, not with a groan of despair but with a call to action: “civil society is not something you take for granted. It’s a choice you make, a thing you have to fight for. Which will be a fitting mission for 2018 and beyond.”

Resisting the tide of discord and “trickle-down nastiness” is an honorable goal, and it is our daily choice. I’d like to echo Pitts’s challenge as well as respond to it in my own life. We also were treated in the last few days to another ringing call fo a better future, when Oprah Winfrey was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award at the 2018 Golden Globes. In case you haven’t heard her speech, or even if you have, but want to hear it again, I’ve embedded a YouTube video of it here.

Even if some things look bleak as we move into 2018 and beyond, let us “maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights.” Let us all affirm together we “know that a new day is on the horizon,” because we are working to make it so.

Let us never lose hope, and never allow our weariness to keep us from continuing to fight for “the time when nobody ever has to say ‘Me too’ again,” and we live in a civil society where  the dignity and value of all persons are respected, basic human rights are demanded for all, and where we cherish the well-being of this fragile globe that we call home. It’s only too late if we give up on the values we hold most dear.

IMAGES: Many thanks to Jeremy Graham, Sr. on Ingrum, for the “Working towards a better future” image, and to Al Diaz and the Miami Herald for Leonard Pitts’s photo, via his profile on Speakerpedia. Many thanks to CNN for the transcript of Oprah Winfrey’s speech, and to NBC via YouTube for the video of Oprah’s acceptance speech.

“When I am big . . . “

The Artdog Quote of the Week

A person could (people have and do) write many books about the value of outdoor play, the things children learn from it, and the reasons why “nature deficit disorder” really is a serious matter. We can’t save what we don’t value, but there are so very many reasons why we should and must value our natural environment, and cherish the many lessons nature teaches.

IMAGE: Many thanks to How Wee Learn on Pinterest, for this image. The board from which this was taken is loaded with other cool thoughts and ideas about teaching our children, too!

A most important event

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Engaging kids with the natural world is serious business–but don’t tell them that! Kids interact with nature in the way they do everything: with imagination and curiosity. Also, I’d like to hope, with spontaneous joy.

Getting kids out into the natural world is a matter of enormous importance–they won’t save what they don’t value–but we must couch it in children’s native language, which is that of play.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Natural Healthcare Store, for this image, which shares a page with some other great kids-and-nature quotes in the source.

4 Powerful benefits from a simple nature walk

The Artdog Image of Interest

Some folks will look at this photo and see nothing but weeds, potential sunburn, probable bug bites, an annoying tick-check later, and dirty feet in the making. Grab the sunscreen and the bug repellent! They’ve let the kids loose in the the woods again!

Others will realize that these kids are receiving many more benefits than they are facing potential hazards. What are the benefits of taking a walk in nature? Let me count out a few for you!

1. Walking in nature improves emotional well-being. Children today suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety than past generations–yet walking in nature has been shown to counter “morbid rumination” (brooding on anxious or negative thoughts).

2. Walking anywhere promotes better fitness, but walking in nature is intrinsically satisfying. This makes it a more attractive activity than, say, walking on a treadmill or a track. The variations in terrain also can help foster greater agility.

3. The endless variety and movement in nature provokes a child’s natural curiosity. Some experts suggest it may help foster greater focus and improve kids’ attention span, while other folks have pointed out it can help improve listening and other cognitive skills. It’s also true that things a child personally experiences in nature can make academic studies of topics such as biology, ecology and other sciences more relevant and understandable.

4. Exposure to nature can also improve the body’s ability to function. While overexposure to the sun is a hazard, sunlight is essential to the production of Vitamin D in the body–a vital component for robust immune health. And speaking of the immune system, did you actually know that a little dirt is actually a good thing? A too-sanitized environment for children can actually backfire if the child’s body has no chance to build up natural immunities. It’s the same principle that applies to the immune-system benefits of household pets. Finally, being in nature can even improve kids’ eyesight, if they spend sufficient time outdoors!

Nature walks provide so many powerful benefits, it’s hard to overstate their value. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

IMAGE: Many thanks to the writer/blogger Angela Amman for permission to use her photo “Walking in the Woods,” posted on her Playing With Words blog.

How to tell it’s been a good day

The Artdog Quote of the Week

Do you remember feeling this way as a kid? Please make sure the children in your life get to have this same kind of wonderful feeling! They won’t save what they don’t value, and the stakes get higher every year.

IMAGE: Many thanks to the Children and Nature Network’s Facebook page, for this image.

Let the children play

The Artdog Image of Interest 

There’s a special magic that happens when kids play outdoors in an unstructured way. Last week’s Image of Interest discussed NPAs, or Natural Play Areas in parks, and their value. But lower-case natural play areas don’t just have to be in parks.

Lucky are the children with access to a farm or a big back yard that consists of something other than manicured grass and a plastic swing set–although kids tend to make do with whatever they’ve got. More varied terrain does tend to help get the creative imagination going.

Creative adults, especially those who grew up with access to interesting natural play areas, almost invariably get a smile on their faces when they think about kids playing outdoors–but in fact that’s getting harder for children to do as years pass.

There’s a record number of kids in developed nations–kids who seemingly have all possible advantages going for them–who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. As Peter Gray has written in Psychology Today, “Rates of anxiety and depression among children and adolescents were far lower during the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and the turbulent 1960s and early ‘70s than they are today.”

Gray and many others point to the decreasing amount of play time children are allowed, these days–especially unstructured play time–as a source of the trouble. Running wind sprints or practicing your pitching skills on a flat field–while possibly enjoyable and valuable–are WAY different from unstructured play in a natural play area.

But all too often we see parents or other caregivers worry more over the potential dangers of outdoor play–from overexposure to the sun to air pollution–than about the ill effects of too little outdoor play. “Supervise your child carefully,” parents are warned. Supervise, certainly–and not all areas are equally safe for all ages. A little common sense, especially where toddlers are concerned, is well-advised.

But when they grow out of the toddler stage, don’t forget that appropriate developmental needs change. And, believe it or not, there actually are physical and psychological benefits to doing things such as sledding, walking barefoot in the woods, or rolling down a hill. Even simply getting dirty can be good for the immune system. Of course, kids have known this for eons.

We adults should relax a bit, and let them do it.

IMAGE: Many thanks to CafeMom for this image. It’s taken from the excellent article by Jacqueline Burt Cote, 6 Reasons Your Kid Should Play Outside, According to Science.

Laying sound groundwork

The Artdog Quote of the week 

Last month’s Quotes of the Week centered on climate change and the denial thereof. This month’s Quotes turn to the related topic of teaching children (and their parents) the important things that the natural world can tell us. As today’s quote points out, we won’t save what we don’t value. Summer beckons. Let us make the most of it!

IMAGE: Many thanks to Dona Matthews and her wonderful blog post essay about the value of taking kids outdoors to learn.