Monday, July 27, 2009

Nature Deficit Disorder

As childhood obesity rates rise and technology creeps into every corner of our homes, it seems evident that today's children are not getting out to play the same way their parents did. Long gone are days of idling in the woods, creating imaginative playgrounds of fantasy from sticks and stones, and exploring our natural world with the curious eyes of a child.

Television, video games, and web surfing create a complex level of play for our children. Author of Everything is Bad for You, Steven Johnson, argues that intricate video games and high tech fun may make for a smarter and more savvy generation. On the other hand, author Richard Louv (Last Child in the Woods) believes our kids are suffering from a Nature Deficit Disorder.

According to Louv, "Children benefit greatly from unstructured play, particularly make-believe play. And kids are far more creative in natural play spaces than on the typical flat playground, whether it’s made of concrete or turf. They are far more likely to invent their own games in natural places." What's more, exposure to nature can improve a child's ability to concentrate and focus. A University of Illnois study demonstrated that a simple 20 minute walk outdoors can improve the attention of a child with ADHD. A 2005 study by Drs. Hillary Burdette and Robert Whitaker reveals that contact with nature offered physical, social and emotional benefits for children: "The authors cite cognitive benefits from play in nature, including creativity, problem-solving, focus and self-discipline. Social benefits include cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness. Emotional benefits include stress reduction, reduced aggression and increased happiness."

As parents, we know instinctually the powerful impact of nature on our children and are witness to the joy and excitement of discovery and exploration. Simple outdoor games in the yard, helping with the family garden, or strolling through a nearby park can reap substantial benefits. Need even more suggestions? Check out the Children & Nature Network or A Natural Sense of Wonder: Connecting Kids with Nature through the Seasons by Rick Van Noy for creative ways to bring nature back into childhood!

[Photo care of Holistic Moms Network, Queens, NY Chapter]

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