Direct experience with nature
For some of us, this may be the ideal picture. A child is walking in a forest: the experience can be peaceful, relaxing, joyful, and spiritual; it can be adventurous, exciting, and inspiring. But it is mainly spontaneous, unplanned, and child-initiated.
In direct experience, children interact with features and processes of the natural environment which function mostly independent of human input and control, although they may sometimes be affected by human activity. Wild plants, animals, and habitats are largely self-sustaining.
Children may directly experience nature in settings such as meadows, forests, parks, and even the backyard of their homes, where there is no fence and wall between them and nature. They can climb up, touch and smell, roll down, get messy, and connect with nature through all their senses.
The distinction between indirect and direct experience is not always very straightforward. Human being constantly controls, re-designs, and manipulates the wilderness. We have left our foot print in many places: forests, oceans, provincial parks, blue sky, and genes of our plants.
Children are often walking on a blurred border.
Not all the children and adults feel the same level of comfort to directly experience nature. Growing up in a culture of fear, many of us see nature as dangerous and unsafe. Strangers, West Nile virus, and wild animals are threatening those of us who choose to go hiking or camping on a nice summer day. Instead, regulated and supervised indoor playgrounds seem a wiser option compared with the potential physical injuries in nature. Even in designing our outdoor spaces the focus is on reducing liability. No one wants to take a risk. We love our children and it is our responsibility to protect them.
But many health and educational experts, environmentalists, urban designers, teachers, and parents argue that an indoor life style and a backset childhood have reduced some dangers to children, but have increased many other risks.