Your child's grandfather might have overturned rocks looking for grass snakes and built secret forts out of tree branches, but its not so common for today's children to be on intimate terms with nature. In fact, these days kids may have an easier time defending a fort in a video game than building one in real life.
A growing number of studies are finding a link between this divorce from nature and increases in attention-deficit disorder, childhood obesity and lower test scores. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, author Richard Louv gave the issue a name: nature-deficit disorder.
Closing the gap
"What I wanted to do, in writing this book, was to create a conversation about the separation between children and nature," he says. "When you name it, you make it real."
So far, he has definitely managed to accomplish his goal, with press coverage of the book's release guaranteeing more and more people become aware of the newly coined disorder.
But what, exactly, is nature-deficit disorder?
"It's the price we pay, that our children pay, when we're disconnected from nature, the physical, mental and spiritual loss we suffer," explains Louv. It's not a medical diagnosis, Louv says, but using the term brings about the seriousness of "what children lose when they lose direct contact with the outdoors."
Louv, a child advocate and author, says the blame for the disconnect with nature lays with busier schedules for children, along with technological lures, such as television and computers, and also from fear - "fear of traffic, of crime, of stranger-danger, of nature itself" - that prompts parents to keep their children indoors, or in structured play areas, away from possible danger.
Foster a love for the outdoors
Louv says we should focus on the positive aspects of a relationship between children and nature, such as one study that showed that time in nature relieved symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, or another that argued children were more creative when playing in playgrounds designed with a natural look.
So maybe we do need to turn off the television, shut down the computer and get outside, but if, as Louv argues, the nature deficit goes back at least two generations, where do we even begin?
Start with your early memories of nature
"First, rediscover your own nature connection," says Louv. Don't forget, all the benefits your child will enjoy by interacting with nature, you'll reap as well. Collect bugs, return earthworms to the grass after the rain, get to know a small area of land and what grows there. If proximity is a problem, grow your own green space by planting a window-box garden.
Don't be afraid to get your own hands, or knees, dirty on the quest to get your child off the couch and out the door.
"One of the most important gifts a parent can give a child is his or her own infectious enthusiasm for the outdoors," says Louv.
It's a gift that keeps on giving.
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