Is Your Child Suffering from Nature-Deficit Disorder? According to Richard Louv, in his groundbreaking national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, we are rearing a generation of children indoors with no direct contact with nature. Not only do our children miss the joy and wonder of discovery but many now see the “outside” as a place of danger.
Those of us in the baby boomer generation recall with fondness the special childhood freedom we enjoyed as we were
encouraged, with little parental control, to play outside and explore. We had an intimate knowledge of our town, our playgrounds, parks, woods and backyards. We built tree houses, made forts, blazed trails, got poison ivy, captured fire flies and created an imaginary world that filled our days with joy and fun. The only rule – we had to be home in time for dinner!
In his book, Richard Louv writes about today’s children: “Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment – but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature is fading…A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest – but not about the last time he or she explored the woods…”
There are many complicated reasons why children no longer are in touch with nature. Many things vie for their attention including computers, electronic games, organized activities and TV, to name a few. A 4th grader was quoted in Louv’s book as saying, “I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”
We parents (and the media) have to take much of the blame for not ensuring our kids are exposed to the wonders of the great outdoors. We live in fear that something will happen to our children, and the media hypes the instances when something does happen. We teach our kids about “stranger danger” and caution them to “be careful” outside. Outside is a scary place – ticks and mosquitoes spread diseases. Wild animals, like snakes and coyotes are on the prowl. A child can fall or get poison ivy or get lost. The list is endless of what could happen. We are great at teaching kids to fear and look for evil but we neglect to teach them about the goodness, beauty and mystery of the natural world.
While we are protecting our children from real and imagined dangers, we are putting them at a disadvantage. There is a growing body of research that links physical, mental and spiritual health directly to our positive experience with nature. Research suggests that depression, high blood pressure, attention deficit disorder and obesity can be reduced by encouraging children to create a bond with nature. Instead of viewing unscheduled time outside as “wasting time,” we need to see that connecting to nature is a way for us and our children to connect to our true selves.
Children learn self-reliance, self esteem and good judgment from interacting with the natural world. As you get outside with your children, you can teach them simple safety rules: stay on the trail, check crevasses before sticking your hand in a hole, “leaves of three –let it be!” Kids can learn how to use a compass and to memorize landmarks. They can learn to identify bird calls, animal tracks and plants. These skills can expand their horizons and give them an appreciation for our environment based on personal experience.
In response to Richard Louv’s book, the “No Child Left Inside” movement has been growing for several years. The goal is to get children outside to discover or reconnect with nature. There are hundreds of ways you and your children can appreciate the natural world. Walk around the neighborhood. Start a vegetable garden. Buy binoculars and become bird watchers. Take a hike at a local nature preserve. Go fishing. Visit the children’s garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Spring is here. Take a young child outside and discover together the signs of spring. How exciting it is to see the new buds on the trees, perennial plants starting to peek through the soil, and the birds building nests in our gardens.
We are fortunate to live in an area with several nature preserves close by. Take the kids to Line Creek Nature Area and the Flat Creek boardwalk in Peachtree City or Sams Lake Bird Sanctuary in Fayetteville. For more information on these local nature areas, managed by Southern Conservation Trust, go to: https://www.sctlandtrust.org/