If your child gives you a glazed look when you suggest taking a walk in the yard or to the park to enjoy the outdoors he may have “nature deficit disorder.” Author Richard Louv coined this phrase in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. What Louv was referring to was the reality that kids today have a declining interest in things that our natural. That’s pretty frightening when you think about it, especially when well meaning parents may be the cause.
Gone are the days when kids were encouraged to go out and explore nature on their bikes or on roller blades, etc., with their friends. Those were the days when the only restrictions or guidelines given were to be home for set meal times and before the street lights came on.
Today few parents are comfortable letting their kids ride their bikes beyond their own street, not alone to the nearest park or conservation area. With every new media highlight of a child abduction, drug incident or worse, parents become more cautious. The end result of all this caution is a generation of kids that have become distanced from their environment.
Not only have parents limited children’s access to natural environments, but the lure of television, computers and video games has also eaten up a significant portion of recreation time that might have been otherwise spent out doors.
According to the Playing for Keeps organization 80 percent of children under age 2 and more than 60 percent of children aged 2 to 5 do not have access to daily outdoor activities. The National Parks Service reports that state and national parks are experiencing a 10 to 20 percent drop in visitation.
In 2007, the Governor’s Outdoors Conference in State College gathered over 300 public health officials, directors of government agencies, park managers, nature-related outdoor group representatives and outdoor enthusiasts from across the country to look at the challenge of getting kids and adults outdoors and the reasons for these changing trends.
This gathering of outdoor stakeholders came up with a number of reasons and causes for this unhealthy trend. For one, it was determined that urbanization and school district’s concern about injury-related lawsuits contributed to the decreased number of easily accessible outdoor opportunities for kids. Other reasons point to our unhealthy diets. Health care workers notice a lack of stamina in our youth when confronted with outdoor activities and link this observation to lower levels of Vitamin D.
So if you think your child has nature deficit disorder what can you do? Here are a few suggestions:
- Get involved on your school PTA and encourage the school to incorporate more nature trips into the school curriculum.
- Take community events out of the manicured local parks. Instead plan community events in nearby conservation parks. Carpool families to the location and hold a barbecue and baseball game there. The different wildlife to be seen in a conservation park will make the trip interesting and get the kids excited about the beauty that really is all around them.
- Hang bird feeders around your house and look at the different birds you can attract with different seeds. Involve the kids in this activity and watch their interest grow!
- If you have space, plant a children’s garden or start planting in pots. Put them in charge of weeding and watering. When their seedlings bloom their excitement will be something to behold.
- On your next family vacation choose a location that has many outdoor adventuring opportunities.