A shifting baseline

How many times have you read about the changing picture of early childhood in this country (and maybe even around the globe)? I talk about it in trainings with early care and education providers. We talk about how society has changed in the last generation plus, how the rate of childhood obesity is escalating, the amount of time young people spend in front of a screen of some sort is increasing, about how hardly anyone spends time outside, let alone outside in “nature.” (I put nature in quotes because we each have our own definition of what nature is to us.)

tree in fall and winterHow often during these discussions do you shake your head in wonderment about how much childhood has changed? My father was a great believer in the notion that ‘change is the only constant.’ While that may be so, as any one thing changes, do we notice that change, do we mark time for that change, and do we remember the before?

My husband sent me an article from the Telegraph of London that introduced me to a new term or concept: shifting baseline syndrome. While the Telegraph article was talking about the change in common songbirds in rural England as noticed by the change of bird song heard, the person to coin the term is a fisheries biologist, Daniel Pauly in 1995. According to an op-ed piece on shiftingbaselines.org (and was published in the LA Times in November 2002), “Shifting baselines are the chronic, slow, hard-to-notice changes in things, from the disappearance of birds and frogs in the countryside to the increased drive time from L.A. to San Diego.”

Do an internet search for shifting baselines and you will, of course, find many links to fisheries studies, but you will see that this idea is also drifting into other disciplines. I particularly was intrigued by the shifting baseline of tenure-track faculty positions! [https://chroniclevitae.com/news/211-off-track-higher-education-s-shifting-baseline-syndrome#sthash.q2E4sWq3.dpuf]

Back to early childhood… think about early childhood today and then think about your own childhood. The difference may seem dramatic, but I’m betting the year-to-year change was hardly noticeable. Our baseline has shifted. This shifting baseline can impact our quality-of-life decisions we each face daily. I don’t think we’ve forgotten what childhood “used to be” but I also worry that systems, agencies, and maybe even society have accepted a degraded state of what early childhood could be as our new normal.

Part of what is missing today is the amount of time young people, and people of all ages, spend in the outdoors. Many of us are working to reverse this trend. Maybe the collective effort will help us control part of the shifting baseline of the environment of early childhood.

Musings from Murgatroyd by Linette Bernard
Murgatroyd is a family surname from England and has absolutely nothing to do with early childhood. The saying ‘heavens to Murgatroyd’ was one I remember my father saying, as well as ‘musings from Murgatroyd’ often were at the top of handwritten letters to me during and after college. From time to time more musings just may bubble to the surface to be shared.