Connecting with Nature

Places like Schaumburg’s Spring Valley are essential for educating the community on the importance, intrinsic value, beauty and interdependence of natural areas within the suburban landscape. People will protect what they love and educational programs like those at Spring Valley help reconnect young and old to the land. In his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv emphasizes the developmental imperative of allowing children time in nature.

Children need nature for the healthy development of their senses, and, therefore, for learning and creativity. This need is revealed in two ways: by examination of what happens to the senses of the young when they lose connection with nature; and by witnessing the sensory magic that occurs when young people – even those beyond childhood-are exposed to even the smallest direct experience of a natural setting (Louv 2006, p. 54)

Experience in nature, even for as little as an hour of day, can help to alleviate symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder, increase focus, and help combat our nation’s growing problem of childhood obesity. Moreover, children absorb their environments. If all they know are screens, shopping malls, and indoor walls, those become part of them. Louv begins his book with a poem by Walt Whitman:

There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover, and the song of      the phoebe bird…

(“There Was a Child Went Forth,” qtd. in Louv, 2006, p. 1).

Most people can clearly remember critical times of their development happening in natural settings. Unfortunately, many people also can relate to the deep sense of loss they experienced when their favorite spot as a child –a winding, bubbly creek or a small patch of woods that seemed like a great forest – was bulldozed over for development.

Lifelong resident of Schaumburg, Amanda Greco, is not yet 30, but she can clearly remember Schaumburg’s past with open farm lands and woods. She remembers feeling as if there were hundreds of acres to explore. She is raising three children now in the Schaumburg area and regrets that they don’t have the same vast territory to wander and explore. However, she takes comfort and refuge that she can still share Spring Valley Nature Center, a place that holds dear memories for her as a child, with her children. “At Spring Valley, my kids experience a connection to land and the changes of seasons. Despite the concrete build-up, they have a place that is theirs.” Her family also volunteers at the heritage farm so her children can have an experience of farming and a connection to food that so many children lack today. She writes about their adventures in family sustainable living on her blog.

Individual action to promote biodiversity doesn’t simply take the role of activism to preserve public land; it also needs to happen yard by yard, much like Amanda’s family’s suburban yard that promotes nature. As Michael Bryson comments here:

Imagine, for instance the value to biodiversity and water conservation if a good percentage of homeowners began to plant native vegetation, were encouraged to develop rain gardens, and decreased their use of traditional chemical-intensive lawn care. Such practices provide cover for wildlife, especially birds, prevent excess water run-off into the sewer system, add variety and natural beauty to the landscape, and help stoke a more ethical relation to nature close at home. Similar but bigger-scaled practices at corporate campuses and public spaces (such as the use of prairie grasses instead of turf and bioswales to absorb water) could have positive impacts, as well. (Bryson 2011)

There is so much that can be done by landowners, homeowners, schools, and businesses to create havens for biodiversity and protect water resources. In a conversation with Dave Brooks, a naturalist and educator at Spring Valley, he stated that much progress has been made in the past 14 years for conservation efforts in Schaumburg. The obstacle of getting the Village of Schaumburg on board for sustainability has been largely overcome. The Schaumburg Comprehensive Green Action Plan (C GAP) and Schaumburg Biodiversity Recovery Plan are results of this progress.

Brooks says that one of the largest hurdles now is educating the public on the importance of biodiversity and open spaces in their community. Many people look at prairie plantings as un-manicured weed patches compared to the turf grass of which they are accustomed. Moreover, people are afraid that natural areas will draw wildlife that will pose dangers to their pets and children. In well-managed restorations, though, these are not serious issues. We simply need to evolve our aesthetics for biodiversity and learn about how to live well with wildlife.

Next page: Planning for the Future