By CONNOR CLENDENEN
For Jamesetown Audubon
When I was seven years old, my favorite thing in the world was a treehouse.
Connor Clendenen, center right, an assistant counselor at the Audubon Society
Clendenen as a camper at day camp
My neighbor's treehouse wasn't very big, maybe 12 feet by 12. It had a set of stairs, a railing going all the way around, and a shaded spot underneath where you could cool down on a hot day. The treehouse was set about 30 feet back into the forest, and another 30 feet back was a small creek and a set of trails that seemed to wander on forever underneath the wooded canopy. I remember spending countless hours there in the summer, collecting awesome-looking sedimentary rocks and weird-looking sticks to stash inside our little house in the woods. Life was glorious.
When I was 8 years old, my favorite thing in the world was the Nintendo GameCube that my parents bought me for Christmas.
As technology has become more and more advanced, it has become easier and easier for people (and especially children) to be disconnected from the natural world. We spend time watching television and movies, playing video games, and visiting websites like YouTube and Facebook for hours at a time. In fact, it is estimated that the average child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media.
Another factor that contributes heavily to the rising number of kids staying inside seems to be the attitude of parents, who believe that the outside world is "unsafe." Often they think that if they let their children adventure outside, they could be lost or kidnapped or badly hurt by some unknown danger. And while it is certainly true that, in some parts of the world, the locale might not be the safest for youngsters, it seems like a lot of parents let this concern cloud the fact that going outside is a fun, normal part of human development.
In 2005, Richard Louv published his famous work "Last Child in the Woods." In this book, Louv coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder" (NDD) to describe the worrisome symptoms observed in children who do not get enough time outdoors. These problems include depression, childhood obesity, and shortened attention span as well as a general lack of creativity. Kids who spend a lot of time inside also tend to earn lower grades in school than those who venture often into nature.
Fortunately for me, my parents realized what good that the natural world could do for me at an early age. They signed me up to be a Cub Scout, and my mom even became our pack leader to help keep me interested. I participated in a lot of out outdoor sports over the years, including baseball, soccer, basketball, tennis, and golf. But probably the most significant impact on my outdoor education and experience came through summer camps at the Jamestown Audubon. I've attended the camps for almost every year since the beginning of elementary school, and when I became too old to be a camper, I decided to participate as an assistant counselor instead.
Here's the thing: that movie that you're watching will only last you a couple of hours. Your favorite TV show will eventually get cancelled. Video games are expensive and, by nature of the coding, will only hold your interest for a finite period of time. But you could spend the entire rest of your life exploring nature and barely scratch the surface of the potential experiences that lay in wait.
Don't fall victim to NDD. Find your treehouse.
Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails are open from dawn to dusk as is Liberty, the Bald Eagle. The Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when we open at 1 p.m. For more information you may visit jamestownaudubon.org, or call (716) 569-2345.
Connor Clendenen is a summer intern at Jamestown Audubon.