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Nature-Deficit​ Disorder

With winter coming to a close - it's essential to re-establish on our connection to Mother Earth.

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

-Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder

Right now, many folks want to be somewhere indoors, hands washed, and reading about butterflies and rainbows. We need a break from paranoia and bad news. I get it. I do. But we have to combat fear and isolation with some truth. If we are not sick, suffering from an immune issue, or have a direct threat of illness:  We still need to get outside. Yes, perhaps traveling with hand sanitizer, sans shaking hands, and enjoying wide open spaces (not too close to our neighbor) - but going outdoors is critical for our children and ourselves. Put in different terms, staying indoors for long periods is terrible for your health, your children's learning, and everyone's wellbeing.


Children Need to GO Outside

An indoor lifestyle can create issues for children.

According to the children & nature network“An expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to a diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, conditions of obesity, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses. Research also suggests that the nature-deficit weakens ecological literacy and stewardship of the natural world. These problems are linked more broadly to what health care experts call the “epidemic of inactivity,” and to a devaluing of independent play.”

Nature-Deficit Disorder is not a medical term at all. It’s merely a means of seeing our connection to nature and the outdoors as more significant than a feel-good thing. Y'all we need to care about and FOR our environment, and we must instill the same passion into our children. In There’s No Such Thing As Bad Weather, Lisa Akenson McGurk writes, “Outside children are constantly moving, they are active. Active children learn better and more," writes Ylva Ellneby, a veteran preschool teacher and author in Sweden, in one of her popular books about early childhood. "Children need to use their imagination and nature gives them the freedom and inspiration that is required to make it happen... the woods and fields offer many adventures and magical experiences."

It’s critical for children to get outside, independently play, and explore nature. Studies show that children that have independent-play in the outdoors are:

  • calmer

  • more able to focus

  • get more exercise and burn more calories (than even their peers in regulated exercise hours)

  • learn more effectively

  • tend to be more creative

  • care more about how their actions affect the environment

In my parenthood experience, free time for my boys is essential.

Here are some of the ways that I’ve been able to incorporate the space:

  • Nature-based early education and playgroups

  • Forest schools/ Tinkergartens

  • Schools where outdoor time is mandated (recess and outdoor learning programs)

  • Going to parks after school

  • Playing in their (grandparents’) backyard

  • Family hikes

  • Camping Trips

  • Walking to stores

  • Outdoor shopping centers

Sounds easy enough, right? Well, it's more complex than that. 

Recess and The Outdoors

Richard Louv argues in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder (2005) that “Well-meaning public school systems, media, and parents are effectively scaring children straight out of the woods and fields.” Louv cites a growing body of research that links “mental, physical, and spiritual health” and associates the lack of outdoor time with maladies like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. While Louv offers a convincing argument for the need for children to spend more time outdoors, the child he writes about (and remembers somewhat nostalgically) is in most cases white and usually middle class.”

Dr. Martin is more than right. Unfortunately, all over our nation - recess is declining due to shared school spaces, lack of public school funds, and (majority) an increase of instructional time. Many of the schools are public schools, which can be especially devastating if the students are children of color or low-income. There are elements of fear that many brown, black, Jewish, Musm, and low-income families have about sending their children outside after school.

“The fear that many communities of color feel in America is real and understandable. They are afraid of deportation, regardless of legality, as ICE agents begin to detain legal residents who appear to be Latino. Many African-Americans are afraid of fatal police violence, as shocking videos continue to go viral. A rise of anti-Semitic and racist speech and graffiti create anxiety."

What makes it worse is that these trends of nature deficit are found early. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds, many low-income families send their children to family members for care. Now, although many folks don’t love daycare centers - there are regulations on outside time for children. The same is not true for family home care. Although family care provides "all the love," unfortunately, it is found that children in the care of family don’t go outside enough. In fact, your child is more likely to go out with a family friend, local home care, or a daycare facility.

So many of the students that are denied recess are also more likely to be indoors after school. And without a touch of nature, we see Nature-Deficit Disorder symptoms - obesity, attention issues, depression, a lack of vitamin-D, creativity blocks, anxiety, and a lack of connection between themselves and the environment


Next Steps.

As guardians, we can make sure that our children are having adequate time outdoors in whatever way that we can. Find free programs that offer outdoor play. Apply to scholarships for outdoor nature-based schools. Ask your family members to take your child outdoors. Forward this article (shameless plug lol). Ask your daycare teacher or your child each day - did you go out? Do what you need to do to get yourself and your child(ren) outside.

But on a broader scale, if we have space and time - we can become a recess advocate. If you know that your local public school isn’t providing recess - advocate for it. Go to the PTA, and voice your concerns, talk to a sympathetic teacher, discuss the importance of outdoor play with the administration.

If you don't have the time, but you have the monetary resources - donate coats, rain boots, warm clothing to your local daycare. Like all donated materials - make sure it's in excellent condition. Sorting out "bad" clothing is human resources that many centers don't have. Many times daycare facilities or schools cannot take children out due to a lack of proper clothing. I loved having extra scarves, gloves, and cozy sweaters for my students. All you have to do is call your local daycare/school and ask what they need for outdoor play. Sometimes it's extra uniform pieces for items that get ripped/dirty while children play.

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God." - Hebrews 13:16

Until we meet again, friends!




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