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GUEST COLUMN

Nature lessons

I was so determined to hit that kid in the knees with my toboggan, I didn't notice the pond. Maybe I better explain.

It's winter. The snow is falling. And when the snow falls, there's only one place a kid should be: out in the elements whipping snowballs, building snowmen and riding sleds down steep hills.

Too few kids are doing that anymore. Thus, they're suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by journalist Richard Louv in his book "Last Child in the Woods."

Louv spent 10 years traveling around America interviewing parents, kids, teachers, researchers and others to learn about children's experiences with nature. His findings: during the last 30 years our sensationalist media have "scared children straight out of the woods and fields." Parents are afraid to let kids out of their sight - afraid their kids might get hurt.

Add to that the advent of television, video games and the Internet and the result is this: kids aren't getting out much anymore. And because they're not getting out, they're withdrawing from nature - the chief place where they use all five of their senses at once.

"We don't yet know why it happens, but when all five of a child's senses come alive, a child is at an optimum state of learning," Louv told me. "Creativity and cognitive functioning go way up."

The consequences of withdrawing from nature are not good. Kids lose their sense of being rooted in the world. They're more likely to experience stress, hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorder and other modern maladies.

That's why more kids should enjoy winter as I did as a kid. Which brings us back to the pond incident.

One Sunday afternoon, after a fast run down the hill, I picked up my plastic toboggan and began to climb the hillside for another run. That's when a kid on a sled hit me.

Unlike most kids, who rode sleds solely for the thrill of whipping down the hill, this kid got his kicks out of knocking other kids off their feet. He hit me just below the knees, causing me to go posterior over tin cups.

I spent the rest of that day with vengeance on my mind. I made several runs looking to hit that kid back. I finally saw my opportunity. Just after he jumped on his sled and took a run, I jumped onto my plastic toboggan just behind him.

My timing was exquisite. As he finished his run and got on his feet, I hit him square in the shins, causing him to go posterior over tin cups. So delighted was I with my success, I didn't notice the pond at the bottom of the hill.

Mr. Ayres had dammed up the creek that ran through his yard to form a small pond. Just after I hit the kid, I hit the mound of earth surrounding the pond and was suddenly floating through the air. I landed in the center of the pond on a patch of ice. The ice quickly broke, sending me and my plastic toboggan to the bottom.

Unlike too many of today's kids, I spent my childhood out in the elements. I was free to play and roam and discover. There was certainly the risk of injury and all the other things parents worry about today, but such things didn't concern us in the '70s - all to my benefit.

When it snowed, 30 or 40 kids could be found on our neighborhood hillside. We had to figure things out on our own - had to figure out how to deal with risk and danger and ruffians who liked to take your legs out with their sleds.

It was a boneheaded move by me to tag him right in front of the pond, but, boy, was I immersed in nature that day. I certainly didn't suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder.

If we have any sense, we'll do one thing this winter: encourage our kids to turn off their video games and go outside for a sled ride the next time it snows.

Tom Purcell is a humor columnist nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons. You can email him at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.

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