Build-a-genius, go outside.

girla nd her bear

In her famous essay the Ecology of Imagination in Childhood, Edith Cobb proposed that contact with nature stimulates creativity. Reviewing the biographies of 300 “geniuses”, she exposed a common theme: intense experiences of the natural world in the middle age of childhood (between five and 12). Animals and plants, she contended, are among “the figures of speech in the rhetoric of play … which the genius in particular of later life seems to recall”.

Studies in several nations show that children’s games are more creative in green places than in concrete playgrounds. Natural spaces encourage fantasy and roleplay, reasoning and observation. The social standing of children there depends less on physical dominance, more on inventiveness and language skills. Perhaps forcing children to study so much, rather than running wild in the woods and fields, is counter-productive.

From an essay on the “second environmental crisis” in The Guardian by George Monbiot. He argues that kids these days don’t spend nearly enough time outdoors, which has caused many people to lose their desire to fight for environmental rights. It makes perfect sense—the most eco-minded folks are usually people who really like nature and spend a significant amount of time in it.

It reminds me of a piece I read earlier this year about wild words being removed from children’s dictionaries. The publishers at Oxford University Press decided that some words were more relevant to modern kid’s lives than others. What’s out? Bluebell, newt, and willow. What made the cut? Broadband, block graph, and celebrity. Ouch, right? My personal hero, Margaret Atwood, protested the change, and when someone who specializes in spookily prescient dystopian fiction warns of a dangerous societal shift, well damn, I sit up and listen.

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3 thoughts on “Build-a-genius, go outside.

  1. This is fascinating, especially the part about wild words. I was lucky enough to live between two fields as a child. Now, those fields have been developed. I wonder how that’s changed the experience of growing up on that street.

  2. That’s a very interesting idea. Growing up I used to play outside by myself all the time and was lucky enough to have a huge backyard with lots of rocks and boulders. I was constantly climbing up on the boulders, making up stories with various imaginary characters and running all over the yard.

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