As Richard Louv argues in his book Last Child in the Forest, kids are suffering from "nature deficit disorder," a lack of interaction with the great outdoors.
Regular outdoor activity could be the "chill pill" that our overly medicated society so desperately needs - and hasn't recognized. Studies prove that regular exposure to the great outdoors reduces stress, combats obesity, increases creativity, and even alleviates symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - possibly even reducing the need for medication in some kids.
Are you and your family getting your needed dose of nature? Take our quiz to find out, and read on for tips to help maximize your enjoyment of nature, regardless of your experience level.
1. Do you like spending time outdoors?
c) I love scenic country drives.
d) Yes, if you mean my backyard.
2. My family goes for nature walks in wooded areas, meadows, ponds, or by the water (man-made "lakes" or "ponds" in suburban developments don't count)…
a) Biweekly or more
b) Once a month or so
c) Every few months
d) Isn't that what class field trips are for?
3. During a summer walk in the forest, my family is typically
a) Comparing leaves, listening for birds and squirrels, looking for salamanders, chasing each other along the trails, nibbling wild raspberries, jumping over mushrooms, searching for a creek and identifying an appropriate campsite to pitch the tent.
b) All of the above, except the tent part.
c) Following the most direct trail to the scenic lookout to check it out and take some photos. Then heading back to the car.
d) Thinking, Hey, the theme park did a pretty good job of recreating the jungle!
Page 1 of 3 - Continue taking our quiz on page 2.
4. If I saw my eight-year-old climbing a tree and sitting on a branch about 12 feet off the ground, I'd...
b) Watch, though perhaps go a bit closer, just in case.
c) Tell him to come back down.
d) Freak out and get my husband to climb up after him -- no, on second thought, call the fire department to get him.
5. If my daughter broke her arm playing in the wilderness, I'd...
a) Tell her to chalk it up to experience. Now she knows her limits better.
b) Stick a bit closer during these activities.
c) Construct a safety-tested, store-bought fort in our backyard.
d) That would never happen to me because I only let my kids play safe.
6. My child has handled...
(Safety note: Never touch mammals or winged insects like butterflies and moths.)
7. As a child, I…
• Climbed trees
• Mountain biked
• Collected leaves, fossils, rocks or other natural specimens
• Played in the woods
• Played by a nearby creek or pond
Questions 1 to 6:
Give yourself 3 points for every a) answer, 2 points for every b) answer, 1 point for every c) answer, and 0 points for every d) answer.
Questions 6 and 7:
Give yourself 2 points for each item that applies.
Page 2 of 3 - Find out how your family scores on page 3.
41 or more: Nature freaks
You and your kids get optimal exposure to the great outdoors. We don't need to give you any tips, except to remind you to listen to little ones' cues about hunger, tiredness and cold/overheating. Otherwise, maintain your family traditions (we're betting your love of the outdoors began in your own childhood). And have your child invite along a less-active cousin or friend.
25 to 40: Outdoorsy types
Your kids enjoy their fair bit of outdoor play. Many of the benefits of outdoor time, says Louv, come from its unstructured-ness. So if one of the things keeping you from going out more often is the ambitiousness of your plans, ease up. Don't plan a strict itinerary, like "must climb Cougar Hill, must collect three different types of mushroom spores for nature scrapbook." Just get out there and follow the path - or your kids' direction.
10 to 24: Get out more
One of the challenges modern parents face is the pressure to do everything and be everywhere. Sidestepping this trap makes for happier, more active families. Here's an exercise from Last Child In The Woods. You, your spouse and each child should separately write lists of activities you love, and those you don't. See if there's an extracurricular activity you can bail on to make time for unstructured nature play. Does your kid love Saturday morning soccer, or does he go just because you signed him up? Perhaps he'd have more fun exploring the woods with his mom, dad and dog. As for you, you can get off the bleachers and onto the trail.
Less than 10: Get outside…stat!
Your family needs an emergency outdoors infusion. Kids need to experience the beauty and wonder of nature in person, not just via Animal Planet. No one expects you to hike up a mountain (especially if your childhood wasn't very outdoorsy), but please get active, before your kids lose interest. Pull your child along a trail in a sled (many nature areas have even-surfaced one-kilometre routes, as well as more challenging trails for experienced hikers), and bring a bag she can put wind-fallen pinecones, leaves and seeds into for craft activities at home. Motivate yourself with a prize -- new hiking shoes or a Lululemon hoodie if you hit the trails three times in a row. But don't be surprised if you have so much fun you don't need a bribe.
Page 3 of 3 - Is your family at risk from nature deficit disorder? Find out by taking our quiz that starts on page 1.