Thursday, January 3, 2013

Nature Tips

We humans have a rather bizarre relationship with nature. We seek out nature to stroll, run, bike, rollerblade, climb, swim, skydive, surf, sail, commune, birdwatch, whalewatch, and stargaze, spending billions of dollars a year gearing up for and traveling to these activities. While there, we might collect bugs, rocks, driftwood, fossils, counts of bird species, or, most commonly these days, photographs. Closer to home, we grow nature in our gardens, place it in pots that adorn our living spaces, cherish it as pets, and hug stuffed manifestations of it to our sleeping bodies. Increasingly, we also consume digital versions—books, documentaries, movies, and videos—that allow us to travel to wild places without so much as stepping beyond the front door.

On the flip side, we also kill nature for sport and place it in cages for our amusement. We rip it from mountainsides, scrape it off the ocean’s bottom, harvest it for raw materials, befoul it with various toxins, and destroy it in vast quantities to accommodate humanity’s sprawl. Most fundamental of all, we chew up and swallow substantial amounts of nature daily simply to fuel our bodily selves.

How can we possibly eat nature and love it too (beyond the taste, that is)? More to the point, how exactly do we go about connecting with this thing called nature?

The heart of the answer, I’ve come to think, is embodied in a simple question. Do you think of yourself as inside or outside of nature?

Our present dominant worldview places humanity outside and above nature, reducing it to mere resources. This “denaturing” has been ongoing for thousands of years, driven by such forces as agriculture, science, and technology. If we’re going to develop a true compassion for nature—a matter of urgent importance for this century—we must understand that the human-nature divide is a delusion. Cutting edge science now demonstrates that we are fully embedded within nature, and also that nature is embedded within us. All life forms on Earth, it turns out, are our kin.

The human-nature disconnect is a cross-cultural phenomenon, blind to skin color and household income. It applies to urban, suburban, and rural families. Today millions of people are aware that we must reinsert nature into our lives, and especially those of our children. But, in this time of increasing urbanization, helicopter parenting, and digital obsession, parents and educators don’t know how to begin the process, let alone foster a lasting nature connection in children. A critical first step, then, is to map out the signposts common to this journey wherever it is undertaken.

Several years ago, I came to the realization that re-establishing a strong emotional attachment with nature was critical for the health of our children and the places they live. Given all the organizations that profess to be connecting people with nature—among them natural history museums, botanical gardens, zoos, planetariums, aquariums, science centers, nature centers, and schools—I assumed that the process of nature connection must be well documented. What I found when I went out to search for answers, however, was an abundance of disparate articles and research papers, but no general audience summaries. So I’m now in the midst of writing a book on nature connection intended for parents, teachers, and anyone else seeking to connect themselves and others with nature.

Yet, rather than waiting for the book’s publication to reveal the process of nature connection, I’ve decided to launch a Facebook site that will, among other things, serve as the home of weekly “Nature Tips” during 2013. These tips, typically posted on Thursdays (just prior to the weekend), will provide direct advice for connecting kids and adults with nature. My sincere hope is that you will find them useful in your own nature-bonding efforts. Of course, please feel free to share them with anyone else that you think might benefit.

Ultimately, nature connection comes down to developing new habits of interacting with the other-than-human world, habits of body and mind that encourage us to experience natural wonders firsthand.

So I cordially invite you to check out the inaugural Nature Tip, all about engaging the senses, on my new Facebook page: And, of course, feel free to share with others who might be interested!

I sincerely hope that you enjoy Nature Tips. And may 2013 be a banner year of nature connection for you and others in your life! 

Scott Sampson


  1. Hi Dr. Scott,

    My 5 year old daughter has been captivated by Dinosaur Train (anecdote: driving up to a stop-light the other day, she saw a flock of pigeons roosting on some telephone lines. She says to me, "Look at all the dinosaurs up there, daddy!" My inner geek rejoiced.) I myself love the explanatory segments at the end of each show and decided to look up who this "Dr. Scott" was. I've subsequently picked up and am engrossed in a copy of Dinosaur Odyssey. It's re-kindled an interest in the Mesozoic world that's been dormant since I was about 8 (crushed in some part, I believe, because dinosaur science conflicted with since rejected creationist beliefs in my family's household.)

    I was excited to see this series of Nature Tips, since these are exactly the type of experiences I try to have with my daughter. We recently got to observe a 5th instar swallowtail caterpillar shed its final skin and emerge as a chrysalis. Then a couple weeks later, though we just missed it emerging, we watched the imago stretch, dry, and exercise its wings for several hours before taking flight. She tags along while my wife gardens and gets to observe how the plants interact with each other and the local insects and the various soil types.

    My facebook account is on hiatus, but I can still see your page and follow the Tips invisibly. Just wanted to say thanks for devoting time not only for making science accessible to kids, but for advocating such a holistic vision of it: a web of ecological relationships that we are part of and participants in. I'm excited to read your new book as well.

  2. Thanks for your kind comments Matt. Love the story about watching the caterpillar shedding. That's exactly the kind of firsthand experience that can hook a kid on nature in ways that might not be immediately evident. Keep up the great work (I mean, fun). And please send your daughter a giant greeting from Dr. Scott!

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