Remember the good old days, when your mom told you to go outside to play all day and just to be sure to come home when the streetlights came on? Yeah, me neither (nor do most of my friends). But my slightly older husband, who grew up in a small town, does, and probably most of our parents or grandparents do. Now try and think about telling your own child to spend his or her day outside playing, exploring, and soaking up nature. If it seems like a highly unlikely experience to imagine, you’re in good company. There are multitudes of reasons (crime, environmental hazards, fear of seeming like a negligent parent) why you wouldn’t allow your children to play outside all day. Yet there are some equally compelling reasons to make sure, nonetheless, that your child is spending time getting down in the dirt, and this need for kids to reconnect with the outside world keeps growing. Richard Louv made waves with his last book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. His concept of Nature Deficit Disorder refers to some of the common issues that occur when kids don’t spend enough time in nature, including links with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood obesity, higher rates of physical and emotional illness and vitamin D deficiency.
Richard Louv‘s book Last Child in the Woods is a great read and an essential one for parents of children and young adults today. His newest book The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End Of Nature-Deficit Disorder outlines why adults need nature too. Studies are constantly being done that show that even looking at trees has been linked with increased work satisfaction, having lower stress levels, and recovering more quickly from surgeries. These studies are done on adults-imagine what the results would be for kids, who are unarguably much more sensitive to environmental factors.
When my son was a colicky and ill-tempered infant, the first thing (and second and third) I did was go on a walk with him. Being outside seemed to calm him, and many other families we know have shared a similar experience. As he got older, he would stand, nose smushed against our sliding glass window, and grunt while gesturing towards our backyard. Maybe it’s the way the breeze feels on their skin or how the shadows of leaves and trees dance in front of their still-developing eyes; whatever “it” is, kids get it and love it. Why should the natural world stop being a soothing, stimulating, and ultimately educational experience as our kids get older?