Nature Deficit — Children Need Nature As Much As They Need Sleep and Nutrition

"Evidence suggests that children and adults benefit so much from contact with nature that land conservation can now be viewed as a public health strategy."
— Howard Frumkin, MD, and Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods

Nature deficit disorder is rampant. Kids just aren't playing outside enough. Yet children need Nature, and play time in natural places, like they need sleep and healthy food. We are negligently risking the health of our students — and by extension posing a health threat to the Earth — by not ensuring them adequate time to play outdoors in beautiful "wild" spaces.

Research has shown that people who care about the Earth when they are adults spent time in the natural world as children, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, and oftentimes with a special grown-up. We owe it to our students to give them unmediated time in Nature so that, as I recently heard a Native elder explain, "the land will remember them" — so that they'll feel grounded and have a sense of "home" that they care about.

If you talk to the animals they will talk with you and you will know each other. If you do not talk to them you will not know them and what you do not know, you will fear. What one fears, one destroys.
— Chief Dan George

If you're as old as I am (I've passed the half-century mark), then you most likely played outside as a kid. It's what was done in "those days." It's what kids did. Our mothers sent us out to play whenever we weren't napping, eating or in school. "Out you go" was every mother's refrain. Remember that?

Sometimes if it was pouring rain, we got to stay indoors, but otherwise, we were outside playing. We roamed, played in the woods, climbed trees, went swimming, built forts, bicycled or roller skated, made up games, caught tadpoles, got wet feet, played catch and road hockey (yup, in the road), and traipsed home when the streetlights came on. Remember that?

We got fresh air and exercise every day, developed our imaginations and our physical skills, learned how to cooperate in small groups, and fell into bed each night tired and able to sleep through the night. Remember that?

Have you noticed that kids don't get much time in the out-of-doors anymore? Too many competing interests (mostly onscreen), too many organized sports and recreational activities, too many parental fears, too many toys and games, too much traffic, not enough at-home parents.

During spring break this year, I sat working on this website for a week and never once heard a child playing outside! "Mother Nature has lost the love of the children," I wrote in my blog.

This is a problem!

  • We are in the middle of an epidemic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. (As kids, we got it all out of our systems when we weren't in school.)

  • We are experiencing an epidemic of childhood obesity. (We could not get fat as kids unless we broke a leg or something.)

  • Being too clean is impairing children's health. As reported in the Telegraph, children who aren't allowed to play in the dirt won't be as healthy as their peers who play (and learn) outdoors.

  • The whole planet is suffering because of our ever-increasing disconnection from the rest of Nature.

If you haven't read it yet, check out Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods - Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. It's an important look at what happens to children who are "denatured." According to Louv, not only can Nature teach kids science and nurture their creativity, but Nature needs the children to become her future stewards.

Time in nature is not leisure time; it’s an essential investment in our children’s health.
— Richard Louv

Check out the National Environmental Education Foundation's Children and Nature Initiative.

The Children & Nature Network is a wonderful repository of research into the importance of reconnecting children with the rest of nature. The Children & Nature Network was created "to encourage and support the people and organizations working to reconnect children with nature. C&NN provides access to the latest news and research in the field and a peer-to-peer network of researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children's health and well-being."

Another great place to back up this rationale for environmental and sustainability education is this research survey of the Council of Outdoor Educator of Ontario (COEO). Reconnecting Children through Outdoor Education summarizes over 100 current, international references on the multiple, powerful and lasting outcomes produced through outdoor and experiential education. And it's a beautiful booklet, as well, with lots of colour photos of children being active — playing and learning — outdoors.

Remember that?

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