Into the Wild Child
When Glen Cove Elementary School second-grade teacher Chip Donahue read Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods,” it confirmed his feelings that the present generation of children has what the author calls “nature deficit disorder.” Wanting to combat the effects of this uniquely 21st-century malady, he and his wife Ashley formed Kids in the Valley, Adventuring (KIVA), which sponsors a monthly outing to a Roanoke Valley park or other outdoor venue in the area.
KIVA is designed for children up to the fifth grade (but children of every age are welcome). Past excursions have included climbing Mill Mountain’s Star Trail and spending a day at Green Hill Park.
I caught up with the group in Fishburn Park on a cold December Saturday just as Donahue was explaining the itinerary. That’s not quite an accurate term, since things are quite free-form on KIVA outings. We had a general route to follow, but some children decided to take the high road, some the low, and others the path of most resistance beside the creek.
Along the way, I witnessed a number of incidents of spontaneous parent/child bonding and natural history lessons. On the advice of his father, one of the kids turned over a log and we got to see the snails, worms, insects and lizards that make their homes there. Another moment we watched as small fish darted from one rock to another in the shallow creek. Most amusing, and possibly the most instructive, was the discussion about what animal had left its poop (scat, for those of you who insist on technical terms) at the base of an oak tree.
As we wrapped up our walk, Donahue told me the outings have become a nice mix of first-timers and those who have come to almost every event since the first one in January 2008.
Donna Wright, secretary at Blue Ridge Diesel Injection, Inc., has brought her children about a dozen times because “the outings bridge the age gap. Exploring nature, bug hunts, hiking are something all ages can enjoy and my 13-year-old gets as much out of it as do my four- and five-year-olds.
“I think the boys are gaining a better respect for our parks and nature in general. They have more of an understanding of the importance of keeping them clean and safe so they will continue to be there for future enjoyment.”
Hollins Associate Professor of Philosophy Michael E. Gettings comes as often as his family’s busy schedule permits: “I like meeting other families, getting out into nature, finding out about hidden spots in our area that I wouldn’t have learned about otherwise, and generally spending time outdoors with my kids.”
On one hike, when Gettings’ children came across a tall mound of dirt a short way into the trail, they climbed atop it and slid down for 45 minutes straight.
“We didn’t have time to complete the hike, but it didn’t matter,” Gettings says. “They had more fun on that mound of dirt than they would on any playground slide.”
Help your children overcome nature deficit disorder by joining KIVA on their next adventure. You can find out where and when at kidsadventuring.org.