Leading online Canadian provider of children’s health information, AboutKidsHealth, reports on how our kids are not benefitting from enough exposure to nature, and suffering too much from nature deficit disorder.
Thirty-eight-year-old Ken Liao reminisces fondly about growing up in the Philippines. “At 10 I was free to roam and walk to the grocery store,” he says. “I would meet up with some friends along the way and we would go to our school and play in the schoolyard.”
Now, a father of two, Liao says he’s apprehensive when it comes to letting his eldest daughter roam as freely as he once did. “It isn’t as safe,” he says. “I wouldn’t let her go to the [grocery store] by herself.” Parental fear is a big reason why few kids today can relate to Lieu’s childhood experience of wandering outdoors unsupervised.
However, Richard Louv, child advocacy expert and founding chairman of the Children & Nature Network, argues that meandering outdoors is essential for a child’s physical and emotional health. “Kids need loose, unstructured dreamtime to experience nature in a meaningful way,” he says.
Inadequate exposure to the outdoors creates, what Louv coins, a ‘nature-deficit’ in children, which impedes their physical and mental well-being. Louv supports this mounting research in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. “When we’re outside in nature… all our senses are working at the same time,” he says. And it is during this time when our minds are most receptive to learning, which is what increases cognitive function, he adds.
Along with nurturing thinking skills, nature gives both children and adults a much needed reprieve from the highly sensory demands of urban settings, says Dr. Michelle McCauley. A psychologist and researcher involved in running a conservation psychology lab at Middlebury College in Vermont, she claims that, “all of us benefit from having unstructured time in nature because our attention is not forced in particular direction.”
When it comes to creating ways for children to experience nature in an unstructured manner, this deep, parental fear of ‘stranger-danger’ has created somewhat of a paradox. One way to avoid this fear is to arrange an ad hoc meet up with families in the community. “Families can collectively agree to show up at a park and go on outdoor play dates at a park or go together on a hike in the woods,” adds Louv.
“Nature is… no longer defined as hours away in a remote part of the countryside. Rather, we can connect with the natural world by exploring the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac, our backyards, or a ravine behind a housing development,” Louv says. “These may look insignificant to adult eyes, but to a child that can be a doorway to the whole universe.”
For more information, visit the Children and Nature Alliance or Children and Nature Network. Alternatively, read the original article at:
AboutKidsHealth is the leading Canadian online source for trusted child health information, and has a scope and scale that is unique in the world. Developed by SickKids Learning Institute in collaboration with over 300 paediatric health specialists, the site provides parents, children, and community health care providers with evidence-based information about everyday parenting information, health and complex medical conditions, from the effect of educational videos for kids, to Bieber Fever, to curing nature deficit disorder. AboutKidsHealth adheres to rigorous quality standards for the creation and review of health information.
Visit www.aboutkidshealth.ca to find out more.
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Sue Mackay, Communications
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