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The Cure for Too Much Screen Time

Cartoon from Cambridge University Library; drawn by Darwin’s friend and classmate at Cambridge, Albert Way, in 1832

Young Charles Darwin collected beetles. Winston Churchill collected butterflies. Long ago, young children lost themselves in long walks or bike rides searching for creatures of the natural world and held great pride in their ability to identify the flora and fauna around them. Over the years, as all aspects of our lives became more technologically focused, we lost our ability to tell apart trees, grasses, mushrooms, birds, and butterflies. The lack of field skills and ecologically illiteracy only elevated our fear of the outdoors, and accelerated our migration out of the jungle and into a concrete silvery jungle filled with skyscrapers and aluminum-clad smart devices. As young children abandoned their balls on the street and traded them for iPhones and iPods, they lost a critical skillset that once contributed to a general understanding of basic natural laws, and by extension, a sense of belonging to the natural world. So, in attempt to return to our natural roots, and as antidote to our tech-laden environment and excessive screen-time, we prescribe nature, and more specifically, ecological literacy for the developing child. We suggest introducing the hobby with a day trip to a near by nature park, zoo, or preserve. Instead of taking away devices immediately, perhaps encourage the use of these amazing apps that help every day people identify the plants and animals they encounter on hikes and nature trips: iNaturalist, Pl@ntNet, and Merlin Bird ID.

Some books to start the conversation include:

  • Baby in the Garden (for infants and toddlers)

  • Nature Anatomy (for older children and adults)

Plan activities to allow for childlike wonder and offer an opportunity to ask questions. Below are few activities we've come up with to do just that. -Encourage a child interested in plants to sprout their own seeds and plant them. -Invite them to write a letter to a local scientist and email them a copy. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, any scientist who gets an email from a child is likely to reply with an impassioned letter to encourage further investigation! Reach out to us if you'd like to connect to the scientist who took the following photo!

Photo by Vivek Vimal, Ph.D

-Encourage their interest by building a toolkit. The American Museum of Natural History has an excellent guide on how to identify plants and other living things and recommends these common items to start.

  • Field guide with keys to plants of the region 

  • A hand lens, to examine plants at close range 

  • Binoculars, to look at things high up in a tree, for example 

  • A metric ruler, to measure leaves and other small features 

  • A metric tape measure, to measure the diameter of tree trunks 

  • An altimeter, to measure the altitude of your site 

  • A compass, to determine the location of your site 

Be open to their interests--whether it is tarantulas or flowers, worms or elephants--accept it, and encourage it! They can begin sketching birds or an elephant or giraffe at a zoo. They can take photos of worms in the backyard. They can collect beans. If they fall in love with bison or koalas, take them to a park where they can see them in their natural habitat. The investment in time and travel will pay off. As they nurture their curiosity and wonder of the natural world, they will build upon numerous skillsets including acute observation skills, inductive and deductive reasoning, visual thinking strategies, and sketching. At the very minimum, they grow up to become adults with a greater appreciation and awareness of the interconnectedness of the world around them and realize their accountability in preserving its jewels and resources.



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