June 2015 Archives


Richard Louv, in his 2005 book Last Child In The Woods, coined the phrase "nature deficit disorder": a phenomenon where children who don't get outside in natural environments develop the symptoms of attention deficit disorder (ADHD). These children then struggle in school, drive their parents and teachers crazy, and wind up all too often on medication. Might the natural world offer a different solution?

There are societal forces working against the "child in the woods": parental fears, a shrinking natural environment, and the ever present availability of screen time. Nonetheless, there are numerous opportunities right here in the Bronx to allow children to experience the natural world.

Parental fear has limited the free play of childhood tremendously since I was a boy. I can remember - at age 9 - leaving the house at 9 am, having lunch at my friend's house after a morning of sandlot baseball, and getting back home for dinner (the rule you could not break!). There were no cell phones, just the neighborhood network of parents and our own developing common sense. Turn off the local news - there are no more child-based crimes now than there were in the 1950's when I was growing up, we just hear about every single one of them!

Recent research tells us that family visits to National Parks are declining while electronics sales for children are growing rapidly. You don't even need a National Park: I can take a nature walk with my grandkids around their neighborhood and spend an hour just going around the block. We explore the flowers in each house's gardens, watch the birds, throw rocks in the stream at the end of their street, and play "I Spy" when there is nothing else around. Here on City Island the choices are endless: if you don't have access to the beaches at the end of your street then just walk over the bridge and walk the path to Orchard Beach.

Screen time is here to stay, but it must be monitored, How about this: your child gets one hour of screen time for every hour they play outside. And by "play" I mean free play, not the organized team sports and over-scheduled camp activities. When they say,"I'm bored!" - and believe me, they will - simply remind them that boredom is a choice and go on with your day. Creativity and imagination are developed out of the necessity of relieving boredom.

Spend time this summer in nature with your children. Let them develop the skills of observation, imagination, and play in our beautiful Island environment. What are you waiting for?

Alternatives to Violence Around the World:

Facilitating AVP Workshops in Locust Valley (Friends Academy) Suchitoto (El Salvador) and Hebron (the West Bank/Israel)

The Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) was developed in 1975 by a group of incarcerated individuals at Green Haven Prison (NY) and a group of local Quakers who were seeking ways of understanding and eliminating violence from our daily lives. Now in over 60 countries around the world, AVP has been used as a model program in Rwanda (to train judges for Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the aftermath of the genocide there) and as a prison-wide program in Ireland to great success (a huge drop in violence amongst incarcerated individuals).

I am privileged to be an AVP facilitator, and as such I have facilitated workshops in many places. Let me tell about three such workshops - one with FA parents and teachers on the FA campus, one with FA students and teachers in El Salvador, and one with Palestinian school social workers in Hebron.

The first FA AVP workshop had a joyful and energetic group of participants dealing with the violence we experience in the privileged independent school environment of FA. Issues that were raised had global themes - family conflict, verbal abuse, discrimination, and poor communication skills - but they remained largely in the realm of what some might call "first world problems." The depth of sharing and the desire for personal growth and change was heartfelt and sincere, and the weekend brought us all much closer together.

Our second FA AVP workshop was held this past March. It included FA parents and students and was once again a life-changing experience for all. We look forward to an August AVP workshop for selected administrators and teachers and an AVP workshop during Peace Week that will be open to the entire FA community - parents, staff, students, and Board members.

The AVP workshop in Suchitoto (El Salvador) included six FA students (from the Global Studies Scholar Course on El Salvador), two FA teachers, and six people from the local community. It was bi-lingual (English and Spanish) with many opportunities for cross-cultural sharing.  In addition to the global themes, there was now real physical violence and trauma: gang issues, domestic violence, and family histories of surviving the civil war in El Salvador (1980-1992). While the present governmental regime is trying to deal with the gang situation and improve the quality of life in El Salvador - government as an agent for positive social change - there remain significant economic and social challenges. Nonetheless, the group developed trust in each other and truly embraced the AVP skills of respect for self, caring for others, finding a non-violent solution, expecting the best, and thinking before reacting.

The AVP workshop in Hebron (West Bank) included 24 school social workers and six facilitators (four Palestinians, my friend Jane from Wales, and myself). It was conducted in Arabic (thankfully I had a translator!) and once again we had some global themes emerge. The most common thread we shared was developing a sense of community based upon respect and common values that embrace not just AVP principles but the more general humanistic principles of Islam. Now, however, there was also a more politically generated sense of the violence: many participants had been arrested at checkpoints, several had lost family members in the clashes between Palestinians and Israelis, and all knew of students who had been affected by the occupation. Yet, in the midst of the stories they shared, there was also a hope that the next generation would be free of the violence and could live in a just society.

The miraculous truth about these three workshops is that the Transforming Power that is central to AVP was evident in each of these diverse environments. However you define a power greater than yourself, you can come to realize that human interactions can be improved with a renewed emphasis on love, integrity, community, and respect.

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This page is an archive of entries from June 2015 listed from newest to oldest.

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