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Discovery Zone

September 14, 2010

Get outdoors and experience nature - it's in our blood.

"An affinity for nature is in our genes," explains R.J. Laverne, The Davey Tree Expert Co.'s manager of education and training. "There's something inside each one of us - whether it's evolutionary and tied to genes or spiritual and tied to Mother Nature. Whatever happens, there is a draw for most humans to be attached in some way to nature. Whether it's conscious or subconscious, we don't understand why, but it feels good."

And, in fact, a lack of connection with nature could be detrimental to our health.

Laverne cites a book called The Biophilia Hypothesis, where authors Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson talk about how humans evolved to become dependent on nature to interpret the weather, where to find food and how to stay away from predators. "It's only recently that humans put distance between themselves and nature," Laverne explains, adding that advancements in technology have contributed to this. "The book suggests that if we spend the entire summer playing in the basement or in front of the TV and separate ourselves from nature, we put ourselves at a disadvantage."

Enjoying the outdoors

Another book Laverne cites is The Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv that discusses the staggering divide between children and the outdoors, and how direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and the physical and emotional health of children and adults. "We're putting children at a real disadvantage by not exposing them to nature and the outdoors," Laverne paraphrases from the book. "Whether it's in the backyard garden or camping, pry them away from the TV or X-Box and let them experience some type of solitude in the outdoors."

He encourages parents to get their children out in the great outdoors and in contact with nature as much as possible. "The best thing parents can do is start teaching their kids about the connectivity of human beings and the rest of the organisms that inhabit the planet with us," Laverne says.

Families can do this by planting a small garden and experiencing how the seeds, dirt and water grow into carrots and tomatoes. Or kids can get outside and physically touch nature - leaves, trees, flowers and grass.


So many lessons can be learned outdoors, Laverne says.

For instance, Laverne occasionally speaks to elementary school classes about seed dispersal. This is easy to talk about in the backyard as well. Laverne likes to show children dandelion puffs and helicopters from maple trees - how they blow in the wind or spin to the ground and plant seeds. He talks about how birds eat things like cherries and distribute the seed via flight. Laverne even likes to show children the wonder of burrs and how they stick to your legs as you walk through them and were, in fact, the inspiration for the creation of Velcro.

Laverne also suggests an even simpler solution.

"All you have to do is give a kid a magnifying glass and take them outside and point out a couple of things, like the skin of an earthworm, the hooks on a burr, or the feather lying on the ground and how the individual veins are hooked together and make a plane instead of a bunch of individual hairs," he says. "Just show them a few things and they will never turn back from that direction of discovery. It's like jumping into a canoe with a child and taking them on a fabulous journey. And all it takes is a magnifying glass and time with an adult to show them a couple of things."

So take the family outside and experience the joy of discovery. You won't regret it.

P.S. Here's one of my favorite tree stories from a recent contest Davey held. Thanks for the wonderful story and photography Jonah!

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