According to Merriam’s Online Dictionary the word affinity is defined as a natural attraction, liking, or feeling of kinship. Affinity may or may not be something that we consciously connect with our time spent in nature, however, it is something that is crucial to personal mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. It is for this reason that I would even venture to say it is especially important for us to provide intentional opportunities for our youth to develop an affinity for nature.
Have you ever shared a young person’s experience in nature as they explore and make meaningful connections? This look and excitement is unmistakable, and to share these moments with young people is nothing short of touching. Having grown up exploring the tidal pools in the Outer Banks in North Carolina and mountainous streams throughout Appalachia, I can attest to the power and meaning which occurred for me during these moments, and I think it was equally as powerful for my parents to witness. To see me grow and connect with something greater than myself and develop a true sense of belonging that would help shape my formative years was surely meaningful for them. And now, as my son has completed his third birthday I find that he is most at peace in this same setting – when outside the confines of our cabin home, immersed in our natural world.
When we have an emotional experience in nature it sparks a fire that fuels future dreams and aspirations, including those related to conservation and stewardship. After all, how can we be invested and take responsibility if we do not have a direct and meaningful connection? It has also been shown through these moments positive personal and social development can occur.
Aspects such as these are of the utmost importance as we enter a generational period where technological advances influence environmental policy and personal choices or a lack there of. As research demonstrates more youth are opting to choose a sedentary lifestyle leading to outcomes such as childhood obesity, gaming abuse, poor academic performance and other at-risk behavior. With the increase and advancement in mobile technology there is even greater need to ensure that we support programs and organizations that provide opportunities to intentionally reconnect youth to their natural system of checks and balance.
At SOLE we believe that the natural learning environment provides such a system, while also providing an opportunity to develop an affinity for nature. In the book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv stated, “in the United States, children ages six to eleven spend about thirty hours a week looking at a TV or computer monitor” (2005, p.47). In addition, if we look at the statistics from 1997 to 2003 we can see a 50 percent decline in the amount of time spent hiking, walking, fishing, gardening, and playing at the beach by children ages nine to twelve (Hofferth and Sandberg, 2001).
“This principle holds that a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit, and survival.” ~ Richard Louv, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder
With evidence such as this it is safe to say, playing and learning in nature is no longer commonplace, as it was when my generation was my son’s age and older. And the potential ramifications are noteworthy. Today our youth have less access to intentional experiential education programming which supports developing and sustaining a nature-based connection. How can they with a standards-based, extra curricular activity driven society? At SOLE, we meet this need head on by providing intentionally designed and facilitated experiential and outdoor education programs to immerse youth and adults in environs where they can experience sincere emotional connections, and therefore, develop an affinity for nature that is lasting.
Because of the hectic school and after-school schedule, summer often provides the perfect time of year to experience something which allows you to unplug and reconnect. These outdoor experiences can make memories which last a lifetime, some which can shift your entire paradigm. From day-based outdoor science camps to outdoor leadership expeditions and adventure therapy exploratory expeditions, SOLE provides transformational experiences which allow youth and adults to truly explore, achieve, and lead. We welcome you to join our team this summer to truly experience SOLE and let the experience speak for itself! For more information on all of our upcoming programs please visit our Upcoming Experiences and Events.
Hope to see you on the trail or water,