The disorder, Louv suggests, “may be a set of symptoms aggravated by lack of exposure to nature.”
Perhaps it is the environment, not the child, that has gone wrong.
In her famous essay The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses,” she exposed a common theme: Intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12).
Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play ... which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall.”
Studies in several nations show that children’s games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.
And here we meet the other great loss. Most of those I know who fight for nature are people who spent their childhoods immersed in it. Without a feel for the texture and function of the natural world, without an intensity of engagement almost impossible in the absence of early experience, people will not devote their lives to its protection. The fact that at least half the published articles on ash dieback have been illustrated with photographs of beeches, sycamores or oaks seems to me to be highly suggestive.
Forest Schools, Outward Bound, Woodcraft Folk, the John Muir Award, the Campaign for Adventure, Natural Connections, family nature clubs and many others are trying to bring children and the natural world back together.
However, all of them are fighting forces that, if they cannot be turned, will strip the living planet of the wonder and delight, of the ecstasy — in the true sense of that word — that for millennia have drawn children into the wilds.