For most of human history, families had every reason and every opportunity to encourage their children toward work, learning and play that was steeped in nature. This was where life skills and strengths were developed. This was where the most fun and action could be had. Today, due to a variety of intersecting factors – the disappearance of open spaces, the rise of screen time, safety concerns, the introduction of longer school hours and busy, two-wage-earner family lifestyles – our kids’ access to (and motivation toward) nature-based outdoor experience is in MUCH shorter supply.
Richard Louv, in 2005, wrote a book called 'Last Child in the Woods' and coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) as a way to describe how without regular immersion in nature we can suffer physical and emotional distress - including anxiety, depression, and obesity. He stated children were especially at risk of being affected, with attention disorders and showing less focus in school.
Nature deficit disorder is not a medical condition but a description of our lack of relationship with the environment. Its consequences can lead to numerous health issues — and your child who spends less time outside today, will face poorer health as an adult. Just like animals in a zoo that live in unnatural conditions, we decline when we are separated from our natural habitat.
While nature shouldn't be seen as the magic bullet to cure all ailments, parents should see the woods, streams, fields and parks around their home as a type of therapy to keep kids focused, confident, healthy, and balanced. It's no secret children learn better and retain more of what they've learned when they enjoy the process. Studies also show that spending time in nature helps with recall and memory, problem solving and creativity, as well as overall being physically healthier.
Some simple suggestions to get you back outdoors:
Limit screen time - Seriously. TV and video games should be played no more than an hour to two hours a day.
Take camping trips - BEST way to experience nature and all its beauty is to immerse yourself. You know you can do it... even if it means you're out of your comfort zone... sitting next to a beautiful lake with a campfire will hopefully bring you a new comfort. Now if the idea of cutting all trappings of technology at once seems too much, perhaps instead of banning your kids electronics entirely, first trip out you set an example by not using yours?
Plan outdoor activities - Your neighbourhood park or your own backyard can give you regular doses. The best way to get kids outside and playing games? Get out and do it yourself. Creating mindful time to spend as a family is better spent walking the dog, throwing a ball, or enjoying a sunset than it is to sit in front of a screen not interacting with one another. The added bonus of fresh air brings it up to that next level.
Grow a garden - Let them get their hands dirty (yes, dirt. They won't melt). This helps them get connected with living things and growing and all the elements that make it possible . You'll nurture their creativity and help them build a love for nature.
Link up with local organizations - those involved in conservation efforts, wilderness skills, exercise groups in the park, etc will give you plenty of options to take the kids and explore places and events you might have regularly missed being indoors.
Lastly, seriously... let them get bored out there. We try too hard to keep our kids jumping from one activity to the next, one structured playdate to the next birthday party to various sporting events... I've said this many times before, we hand our kids a full-time grown up schedule that not even we can maintain without feeling exhausted. Their lives already have so much structure. When was the last time you took your kids outside and let them just explore? Let them learn that it's okay to do nothing, to use their imagination, and to just be. Being outside will help them to calm down, center themselves, and take a good long look at all the beauty there is around them, learning valuable lessons about this world as they do.
Whatever you choose, make a date with your children on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to get outside. Wherever nature is available, get out there! Even if you have little to no experience outdoors, your child will respond if you lead, initiate, and unplug! Your whole family will reap the rewards and be healthier for it.
(c) 2016 Carlisle Integrative Wellness