When I was a little girl, most of my favorite books had slices of nature incorporated. Pippi Longstocking climbed trees, shimmied up mountains, frolicked in the woods, sailed on lakes and had many other nature adventures. The girls of Little Women and Little House went ice skating, jumped in barns, held picnics and walked everywhere. My favorite kid-detectives even solved most of their cases by snooping around outside gathering clues. In fact, even the more modern books I enjoyed showcased kids outside, doing typical kid-minded activities like building forts, walking to school, camping and more. Kids today, unless they’re prone to only the classics, are missing out on this significant nature slant in books, at least according to a new study. The study analyzed 296 books receiving Caldecott awards from 1938 to 2008 and found that as the years go on, there have been significant declines in books that depict natural environments and animals, while what the researchers call, “Built environments” have become more common.

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This isn’t a huge shock, and it’s not just book media that’s affected. Lately, my own son has been watching bits and pieces of old shows on Netflix, including The Wonder Years and Malcome in the Middle. Now, my son does actually play outside – I’m not a nervous parent and believe in free-range kids. Even so, he’s shocked by just how much kids play outside in these shows. Most kid shows today take place almost entirely inside. Kids aren’t being exposed to natural settings, free outdoor play or environmental themes from almost any media or print source. Of course, this study only looked at Caldecott award winning books, but still, if you head over to your child’s bookshelf right now, like I just did, you’ll see that the newer books on the shelf do have a decidedly non-nature slant. The researchers note that, “Natural environments have all but disappeared” in books, and they’re not wrong. The researchers further suggest that “Today’s generation of children are not being socialized, at least through this source, toward an understanding and appreciation of the natural world and the place of humans within it.” Sobering thoughts; especially when research shows that one of the best ways to raise eco-minded kids is to expose them to nature.

We’ve got overprotective parents keeping their kids inside, television that depicts endless malls and now books that avoid nature. It has to end, or we will have an entire generation of kids who could care less about nature, let alone care about protecting it. Today, forget about books, forget about TV and computers, and kick your kids outside. It really is for their own good.

+ The Human-Environment Dialog in Award-winning Children’s Picture Books

+ Source: Miller-McCune

Lead Image by John-Morgan via Flickr