I have a confession to make. I am addicted to my phone.
Everyone says it and now I’m finally admitting it. It’s bittersweet because my phone is always with me. It’s sometimes so bad that I have the urge to graze my hand along the back pouch or along the smooth screen protector. I do heavily depend on my phone and my laptop for my major. I record interviews and write down story ideas on my phone, and use my laptop to type out the millions of thoughts in my mind and saved quotes. But despite the many advancements it’s provided the world, technology has also presented us with addiction in children and a loss of connectivity among children within nature. The technology-driven world and the natural world need to coexist, otherwise, addiction will continue to fester and consume us and the future generations to come.
As it is, 73 percent of people claim they feel a small amount of anxiety when they lose their phone. One reason we can be so obsessed is because of the four major dopamine pathways in the brain. Dopamine is released, motivating behavior and playing a central role in nervous system functions. The mesocortical, mesolimbic and nigrostriatal pathways become dysfunctional because of addiction, whether it’s to drugs or devices. Dopamine also releases with “positive social stimuli,” like getting a like on an Instagram post or seeing a new friend request on Facebook.
Kids, from toddlers to kindergarteners, should not know how to work an iPad. When my 2-year-old cousin couldn’t figure out how to use one of its functions, he ended up throwing it at me. Waiting in the doctor’s office for an hour over winter break, I watched a girl that was about 4 years old play with her mother’s phone for 45 minutes straight.
Are kids just not getting enough outdoor time anymore in pre-K? Have parents given up on entertaining them by going to the park or taking walks? The younger generations need more time outdoors to develop an appreciation for nature.
Theodora “Doree” Cohen engages kids at the Bright and Early Discovery School in Riverhead to explore nature and science. “If we get to them [the next generation] and teach them, get them sparked for an interest and enthusiasm for the natural environment … that’s going in their unconscious mind. That’s going to be building blocks for them,” Cohen said.
Cohen took class trips with the students and got offered to teach them about nature by relating to her enthusiasm for science as a young girl. Her information comes from “a wave of schools” that focuses on this topic. The Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools is a non-profit that provides training for early-childhood educators to make the curriculum more “nature-based.”
“When we teach the young children, they are going to become aware of the fact that our environment needs help,” Cohen said. “We teach them to be kind and not to hurt animals, we teach them recycling and the older children about the endangered species.”
Besides the Eastern Region Association, there are other early learning schools that incorporate nature education heavily into their curriculum. Rye Nature Center is a non-profit in Rye, New York that encourages conservation and provides environmental education. The Green Meadow Waldorf School, a private school in Rockland County, has a new Forest Preschool that launched this school year. Here, kids spend a great amount of time outdoors and even have a shelter for the classroom during days with bad weather.
The positive results from these schools are supported by studies as well. A study conducted by the University of Illinois observed that children are more creative in an outdoor space. Cornell University also reported that children who reside within areas that provide more space for outdoor play experience increased cognitive functioning compared to those otherwise.
I do miss the times in elementary school when we got to go outside to play on the playground and get a breath of fresh air. Even in middle school, we were allowed to go outside during lunch time as long as it was above 40 degrees out. I didn’t get my first cellphone until fifth grade. Before that, I always used to go outside.
The Forest Preschool wave should inspire other schools to follow the same path, whether it’s switching to a heavily nature-based curriculum where students are outside and gain more knowledge about nature and the environment or just having more class activities held outside. We need a little bit of technology because we do have to keep up with the evolving world, but we also need a balance of connecting with nature and appreciating what was given to us without any cost.
Put kids’ phones and other devices in a box for the day. Don’t let the next generation turn out like me. We can make a change now: in regulating technology, we can restore and solidify kids’ love for nature again.