The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child states:
That every child world-wide has the right to free play and recreation, as these are an essential part of childhood education.
We believe in an amendment to the declaration which includes, under Principle 7, that along with play and recreation: all children must have the right to access nature as it relates not only to education, but childhood development and both physical and mental health.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child -- First proposed in 1924, last amended on November 20, 1989.
Principle 7 States:
"The child is entitled to receive education, which shall be free and compulsory, at least in the elementary stages. He/she shall be given an education, which will promote his/her general culture and enable him/her, on a basis of equal opportunity, to develop his/her abilities, his/her individual judgment, and his/her sense of moral and social responsibility, and to become a useful member of society.
The best interests of the child shall be the guiding principle of those responsible for his/her education and guidance; that responsibility lies in the first place with his/her parents.
The child shall have full opportunity for play and recreation, which should be directed to the same purposes as education; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right."
“The child shall have full opportunity for play, recreation and access to nature, which should be directed to the same purposes as education and health; society and the public authorities shall endeavor to promote the enjoyment of this right.”
There is no better medium than nature to guide and ground the tenents of education, to encourage the healthy cognitive development of children and youth, and to foster in our children a sense of empathy and passion for the outdoors. Early childhood experiences in nature help to establish a strong groundwork for the next generation of environmentalists, of scientists and educators, of politicians and of government. Change starts from the bottom and the bottom is young.
I believe this access -- to untamed wild spaces, whether simply the long grass of an un-mowed field or the trickle of a creek -- is something that we have an obligation to guarantee to our children.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are tought." -- Baba Dioum
However, there is a growing disconnect between children and the natural world. As of May 2007 (approx.), human civilization reached a new milestone when, for the first time in human history, a greater percentage of the world's population lived in urban centres rather than rural areas. Rising from 13% (220 million) in 1900, to 29% (732 million) in 1950, to 49% (3.2 billion) in 2005, the United Nations estimates that by 2050, over 6 billion people will be living in towns and cities.
As populations rise, so too do conversations over how to effectively allocate and utilize land for the benefits of people – including thoughts toward energy needs, food production, subsistence and health.
This is a petition to argue that as the conversation moves forward, it should be noted that nature has a vital role to play in the lives of children and adults, with specific regards to cognitive development, education and health.
As increasing studies have come to show, the benefits of nature include, but are not limited to: the reduction of stress, attention deficit disorder, depression and obesity.
In both "developed" and "developing" societies, what is seen as urbanization grows are genealogical trends demonstrating a decline in the family farm, the over-extraction of natural resources coupled with the restriction of wild-spaces to bordered parks and the growing ubiquity of technology and its access.
In all cases, there is an increasing disconnect between children and the natural world. Since David Sobel (founder of the place-based education philosophy and Director of Certificate Programs at Antioch University) published “Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education” in 1996, the argument for nature’s presence during the formative stages of childhood development has become, in this regard, undeniable & imperative—for health, development, and especially for education.
Sobel argues that by encouraging access to nature and including it within pedagogy, “education becomes more grounded, more concrete and more accessible.”
“Primary school children should be learning the geography of their neighbourhood before they start learning the geography of the whole country or other continents. For instance, drainage patterns in the playground can model the structure of river systems, he points out. It is an ideal way for children to see how water always flows downhill and helps them understand how meanders and tributaries work.
“We are always overlooking the miniature world that is available to us right next door,” he says. “We are neglecting those kinds of opportunities as teaching tools.”
In addition to the benefits for health and the grounding of education in tangible sensory-based learning, we must consider the importance of building the next generation of environmental stewards:
“Let us allow children to love the Earth before we ask them to save it.”
“All those free play experiences in the natural world – building forts and picking your own paths in the woods – [these] are the basis for environmental values and behaviours in adulthood.”
“Perhaps what the 19th century US writer and philosopher David Thomas Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings”.
UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child: