Go Outside And Play!!!

By Renee Sherkness


Remember when we were children and we often would hear our parents yell on a daily basis: “Go outside and play”!! We would understand the message our parents were sending that “we were under foot” and more than likely comply. As a parent myself I as I am sure you might have also been known to echo these words from time to time to your children for these same reasons!! Little did we or our parents know for that matter that we were doing more than getting our children (who we do love and enjoy with us!) out of our way for a short time! We and our parents, according to more and more research being conducted in the past few years were most likely adding years to ours and our children’s life!!

While I was doing research for my “Nurturing Nature Collection” of books for children, I stumbled upon some fascinating studies being done. These hypotheses resonated with my own beliefs that a child’s awareness of the nature around us has a huge impact on our youth and is the way to ensure a healthy child and a healthy future for all of us.

Nature Deficit Disorder refers to a hypothesis by author Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in The Woods” and is being looked at as ringing true! NDD’s premise states that human beings especially children are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of physical and behavioral disorders.

Louv claims that causes for this phenomenon include parental fears, restricted access to natural areas, and the lure of the media and TV screen. Research has also shown a further contrast between the declining number of National Park visits in the United States and increasing consumption of electronic media by children.

In reading I found that Richard Louv spent ten years traveling around the USA speaking to parents and children, in both rural and urban areas, about their experiences in nature. He suggests in his book that: “Sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play”.

According to Louv there are many causes for Nature Deficit Disorder and his research list them as follows:

• Parents are keeping children indoors in order to keep them safe from danger. Richard Louv believes we may be protecting children to such an extent that it has become a problem and disrupts the child's ability to connect to nature. The parent’s growing fear of "stranger danger" that is heavily fueled by the media keeps children indoors and on the computer (which may lead to “stranger danger”!) rather than outdoors exploring. Louv believes this may be the leading cause in Nature Deficit Disorder, as parents have a large amount of control and influence in their children's lives.

• Loss of natural surroundings in a child's neighborhood and city. Many parks and nature preserves have restricted access and "do not walk off the trail" signs. Environmentalists and educators add to the restriction telling children "look don't touch". While they are protecting the natural environment Louv questions the cost of that protection on our children's relationship with nature.

• Increased draw to spend more time inside. With the advent of the computer, video games and television children have more and more reasons to stay inside - the average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media.

So what are the effects of the hypothesis of this disorder on our children according to Louv? Here are some of the effects sited from his book I found fascinating:

• Children tend to develop a lack of respect for their immediate natural surroundings. Louv says the effects of Nature Deficit Disorder on our children will be an even bigger problem in the future. In his book he sites: "An increasing pace in the last three decades, approximately, of a rapid disengagement between children and direct experiences in nature… has profound implications, not only for the health of future generations but for the health of the Earth itself. The effects from Nature Deficit Disorder could lead to the first generation being at risk of having a shorter lifespan then their parents.”

• Attention disorders and depression may develop. "It's a problem because kids who don't get nature-time seem more prone to anxiety, depression and attention-deficit problems." Louv suggests that going outside and being in the quiet and calm can help greatly. According to a University of Illinois study, interaction with nature has proven to reduce symptoms of ADD in children. According to research, "Overall, our findings indicate that exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of common after-school and weekend activities may be widely effective in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children. See Attention Restorative Theory below.

• Following the development of ADD and mood disorders, lower grades in school also seem to be related to NDD. Louv claims that "studies of students in California and nationwide show that schools that use outdoor classrooms and other forms of experiential education produce significant student gains in social studies, science, language arts, and math".Childhood obesity has become a growing problem. About 9 million children (ages 6–19) are overweight or obese. The Institute of Medicine claims that over the past 30 years, childhood obesity has more than doubled for adolescents and more than tripled for children aged 6–11. Other problems arising from obesity include asthma, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

• In an interview on Public School Insight, Louv stated some positive effects of treating Nature Deficit Disorder, "everything from a positive effect on the attention span to stress reduction to creativity, cognitive development, and their sense of wonder and connection to the earth."

After further research on this subject I found others who agreed with Louv

No Child Left Inside Coalition supports Louv’s hypothesis and works to get children outside, engaged and actively learning about nature to address the above mentioned problems.

Among some studies recently published in major journals, one by Andea Faber Taylor and Francis Kuo show a correlation between better concentration for children with ADHD and outside walks in the park.

"Attention Restoration Theory” which was developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s supports the positive effects nature can have on behavior, both in short term restoration of one's abilities, and the long term ability to cope with stress and adversity. In their book: The experience of nature: A psychological perspective, Attention Restoration Theory or ART asserts that people can concentrate better after spending time in nature, or even looking at scenes of nature that are calming such as rustling leaves, bubbling brooks or even a cloud floating in the sky.

So what can we do if we believe In Nature Deficit Disorder?

According to Lucy Rector Filppu “Does Your Child Have Nature Deficit Disorder?”; George Ambrose "Easy Activities for Getting Kids Outdoors" here are some suggestions they write:

• Understand What Drives Creativity

Studies show that nature fosters creativity and calms children struggling with information overload. Water, trees, bushes, flowers, woods, and streams are the best kind of toys because unlike action figures or collectables they can be anything.

• Allow for Controlled Risk

In a media-saturated culture where parents hear about a new child abduction almost every day, how do we let our kids wander freely outside? Try going outside with your kids while also letting them experience unencumbered time to roam. Don’t forget to weigh the risk of what happens to a child’s imagination and inner life if we keep her indoors because we are afraid.

• Focus on Nature-Oriented activities

Focus on unstructured time in the environment, where children are free to use all their senses and play as they wish.

• Schedule Outdoor Time

In a parenting culture chock-full of driving from one structured activity to another, it’s time to stop and literally smell the roses. If that means writing “gone outside” on the family calendar each week or (ideally) each day, then get that pen out! There are lots of great activities for getting outside, even in your own backyard.

In an interview in 2005 on National Public Radio, Mr. Louv suggests we not assume we all need to visit Yosemite if we want to combat NDD. He suggests there is nature in our own back yard. One of his ideas he offers is that we leave a part of our yard rough, not manicured. Small children enjoy turning over rocks, finding bugs and exploring.

Fishing ,horse back riding and hiking can be a shared outing for a family to explore the outdoors. Some of my favorite childhood experiences were Sunday walks in the woods behind our home with my Dad exploring the nature around us. Trips to the park to collect leaves or flowers with my grandchildren and create colorful centerpieces with them is a simple activity but one that is asked for often. Reading about the nature around you with your child and looking up different treasures you have collected on your nature walks can be a fun filled activity and educational as well.

Even teenagers, with their “busy social schedules” can be enticed to spend more time outside.

Ann Regn writes in “Nature Activities for Middle School Girls”: How do I get my teenager off the phone or IM and outside?

• Make nature the backdrop, the set for the social scene.

• Vary the activities to make being outside new and interesting.

• Let your teen plan and take ownership of some of the family and peer activities outdoors.

• Have your teen go with a good friend to a nature-based summer camp.

• Teen girls love to keep journals. Use journaling to help reflect on walks outdoors.

• Plan some backyard campouts for your teen and his or her friends.

In Conclusion:

I suggest the impact of less nature in our lives to our children and our future as only a hypothesis to meander over and help you to draw your own conclusion.. I myself while not wanting to even think of another “disorder” to worry about for our youth tend to agree that this subject is worth exploring further.. In a society where words like “beaver” and “dandelion” are being replaced in our dictionaries with words like “blog” and “MP3 player” and “texting”, I think it is time we take notice.. As noted wildlife artist and conservationist Robert Bateman observed, “If you can’t name things, how can you love them? And if you don’t love them, then you’re not going to care a hoot about protecting them or voting for issues that would protect them." If nothing else I hope this article illustrates the urgency to connect children directly to the natural world, and our ending goal to create a healthier “us” and a healthier “world”

Author and educator Renee Sherkness offers her children’s books on nature and the environment on her website: www.nurturingnaturecollection.com

Books include: Stories That Come Alive Through Yoga

The Day Mother Nature Decided To Paint Her House

Winston The Whale And The Blanket Of Darkness

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