Monday, December 15, 2008

Dictionary dumps nature words

Last week I stopped at the local coffee joint for a latte and a little down time. I grabbed a couple of papers and began to peruse the news. The heading of an article “Dictionary dumps nature words” immediately caught my eye and I began to read.

It seems as though the Oxford Junior Dictionary has made the decision to DROP what they call nature words from the dictionary. UNBELIEVABLE! I wonder what Rachel Carson, Thoreau, Whitman and Emerson would think of this??!! They are probably rolling over in their graves.

It would seem that words such as heron, magpie, dandelion, beaver, ivy, willow, otter, acorn, clover and sycamore are no longer required. What is even more shocking is that the word blackberry – as in the fruit – has been removed, but ironically the word BlackBerry – as in the phone – has been added.

Vineeta Gupta was quoted in the article as saying “When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers, for instance...That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed”.

This statement is unbelievable and frankly reflects the exact kind of mentality that is at the root of our environmental crisis. The environment has changed, therefore we no longer need our children to know about otters and beavers and ivy. Yet this change, the change we have created, is the cause of our environmental problems. And eliminating the words will only exacerbate the issues.

We live in a world where children are becoming more and more physically separated from nature. They are lacking a true physical, emotional and spiritual connection to the natural world. Richard Louv calls this disconnect Nature Deficit Disorder. He and Cheryl Charles have started an organization called the Children and Nature Network. Children’s Nature Network is striving to reconnect children to nature. In Richard’s own words “Nature-deficit disorder is not an official diagnosis but a way of viewing the problem, and describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”

The costs of our children’s disconnect from nature are huge. And environmental educators and writers from around the globe, including yours truly, are struggling valiantly to reconnect children with nature. Getting kids excited about nature, interested about plants and animals and ecosystems...and getting them OUTSIDE, is the basis of our work. We have enough roadblocks and hurdles to get past – but now the WORDS THEMSELVES are being omitted? Not only are we physically cutting down nature, but now we are cutting the words from our language too?

Case in’s paper had a wonderful article about the fact that 1,000 new species, such as insects and spiders, that have been recently discovered. But of course, if these words have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, this article will have no impact on children who might not know what a millipede or spider is. And that would be a shame, because the newly discovered Dragon Millipede, with its vast array of legs and hot pink colour, is exactly the kind of species that could capture a child’s imagination and get them curious enough about nature to get outside and discover more!

I realize that the Oxford Junior Dictionary only has 10,000 or so words to play with...but it would seem to me that some of the most important words in the world today are the nature words. How will we get kids outside, much less interested and invested in nature, when these words are deemed as not important enough to be included in a children’s dictionary?

For more information:
1. Article from Toronto Star, Wed. Dec. 10 regarding the words being removed:
2. Article regarding newly discovered species (Toronto Star, Dec 15):
3. Children and Nature Network

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Beauty in the grey’s a snowy Tues morning having some trouble getting going today. This time of year always plays tricks on my moods...and it has little to do with the upcoming holidays. December is an odd month for me. It’s my bday month, my son’s bday month, the end of the year, etc. It has always been a time of endings and new beginnings. A time of reflection and assessment. I am a year older – did I accomplish what I wanted? Did I get to where I was going? Where did I get derailed along the way?

And this year’s birthday will mark another year of transition. So much change is anticipated for this year. Perhaps a new job? Perhaps a new book? Hopefully many new contracts. My house will go on the market. I will be moving and creating a new home for my son and I. There will be new adventures, new friendships and new journeys. Sometimes I get excited by the prospect of it all. And sometimes it scares, as my son would say, the tuna salad outta me.

And despite my soon to be 41 years of wisdom, it is my sweet 5-year old son that is sometimes the wiser of the two of us. Just last week we were driving across the Bloor Viaduct, along the Danforth. It was a cold, wet, snowy, rainy, miserable day. There was bad news story after bad news story on the radio. I was growing anxious and a little frantic, trying to get somewhere for an appointment. The traffic was bad and I was starting to think that taking him on my errands, though it sounded like a fun adventure, might have been a mistake.

Then it happened. From the back seat of the car, I hear “Mommy, it’s so beautiful”. I looked outside. All I saw was grey and cold and damp and traffic. I craned my neck to see what he was looking at over the bridge. I didn’t see anything beautiful. So I asked him what he saw that was so beautiful. He looked at me with the sweetest expression and said – “The world mommy. The world is so beautiful.” And it was. In that moment there was no where he’d rather be than in that car with me – so the world was beautiful. My mood flipped in a second. Despite all the madness and uncertainty in my life and in the world, I saw the beautiful world that he saw, because in that one moment there was no place I would rather be either.

My 5-year old boy taught me such an important lesson. He showed me how to find beauty despite the greyness that might face my day. The upcoming year might bring many grey days for me - I am going to have to dig deep sometimes to see the beauty past the grey. But I know his willingess to see it will be a constant reminder to me that it is there.