Children Need Nature
A small forest, one of the last remaining naturalized areas in a Stittsville neighbourhood, was clear-cut last month.
It’s shocking that an education organization, the Ottawa-Carleton Public School Board, believed it was acceptable to cut down a forest ‘to give children a place to play’. Particularly concerning is the School Board’s promotion of unrealistic fear of the woods to try and justify the plan.
Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods”, coined the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’, describing a range of physical and metal health issues children face from too much screen time rather than outdoor exploration.
Children benefit from sports and structured play but these adult regulated and supervised activities need to be balanced with time for kids to be kids. Nature provides children with the independence, sense of adventure, imagination and confidence required for them to grow as individuals and that we need for a healthy and productive society.
A Stittsville resident pointed out ‘the woods are a community ecological asset that should be used as a living classroom’.
How much more meaningful history lessons would be if an indigenous leader were invited to visit the woods with students to share conservation values. Science would certainly be more interesting if an arborist showed the children how trees act as a ‘community’ in supporting one another. And, students concerned about climate change, would get to see that even a small forest can make a difference in preventing flooding, protecting against extreme heat and in providing essential biodiversity services.
Another resident, Kinzie McGillivary, rightfully argued that the City report did not consider the wildlife that would be affected. Destroying trees before April 15th to prevent migratory birds from returning to nest there is bad enough. But what about the non-migratory birds that have sheltered there all winter and rely on the woods for their food supply?
And, what about species like squirrels that have newborn in tree cavities and dreys as early as March 1st that would have been unable to escape when trees were felled? What about species that den underground over winter that would either be displaced or crushed to death when heavy equipment moved in?
The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre has more than 30 years of experience in connecting children to nature through school presentations, community events and nature discovery workshops. We’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the last decade.
It’s hard to get children to slow down when taking them out on a trail. Questions often were “how fast can I get finished the walk”, as if it were a race or “what am I supposed to see”, as if it were a competition. Fortunately, we have excellent environmental educators who get kids to slow down and explore tree cavities, rock formations, animal tracks and wildlife spotted. It results in a real transformation, in fact, it is hard to get them back to the Centre. It proves nature is exactly the right antidote for our overactive and stressed brains, whether you are a child or adult.
This Stittsville woods was valued by the community and should have been saved. The few other pieces of natural habitat remaining in this rapidly-developing suburban community need protection. It means standing up to bullies – school boards that see nature as a ‘threat’ as well as the City of Ottawa whose track record in protecting natural areas is dismal.
Donna DuBreuil is founder and president of the Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre - www.wildlifeinfo.ca