In 2005, Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in his book “The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder.” The phrase was meant to describe the costs of our alienation from nature. Especially as many children have spent the last year participating in hybrid or at home learning due to the pandemic, it seems children are spending less nature time than ever before. And parents, educators and the general public are becoming keenly aware that the lack of nature in children’s lives is not good for them.
Read more to learn about:
- The short and long term consequences of an indoor childhood.
- The benefits of spending time in nature.
- Strategies to help you get your class outside and spending time in nature.
- Resources for further learning.
The consequences of an indoor childhood are drastic.
According to a 2010 report the average American child spends nearly 8 hours a day looking at electronic screens.
The costs of an “indoor childhood” include:
- Increased child obesity, diabetes and asthma.
- Reduced ability to relate to other children and adults.
- Less realistic life expectations.
- Inability to concentrate.
- More aggressive behavior.
- A higher likelihood of personal isolation.
Ultimately today’s children may have lifespans that are three to five years shorter than their parent’s due to their inactive indoor lifestyles.
But there is still good news!
Despite the move towards at home/on screen learning this last year, the 2021 Outdoor Participation Report highlighted that in 2020 nearly 34 million American children ages 6 to 17 participated in some sort of “outdoor outing”. These children embarked on an average of 77 outdoor outings per person per year. That’s a 1% increase over 2019, and a 2% increase over the three years prior. Biking, camping and fishing were the most popular outdoor activities for children ages 6 to 17.
Clearly, many parents and educators already recognize that being outside and in nature is good for children’s health, but they may be worried about a trade off between “classtime” and “outside time” that will negatively impact academic success.
But a growing body of evidence from around the world is demonstrating that Nature Helps Children Learn :
- Spending time in nature, or even just having a view of nature helps children restore their attention.
- Nature helps relieve children’s stress, and develop resiliency for coping when their lives do become more difficult.
- Nature helps children develop more self-discipline – especially girls with ADHD.
- Outdoor instruction makes students more engaged and interested.
- Time outdoors may increase physical fitness.
- Nature settings may promote social connection and creativity.
How can I get my class outside and enjoying the benefits of nature?
MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS PREPARED TO BE OUTSIDE
In Scandinavia there is an expression – there is no bad weather, only bad clothes. It’s important that everyone in your class is dressed properly to be outside – if that is having hats and sunscreen, or warm winter boots and mittens. Communicate with your families early so that they have time to buy appropriate clothes, and consider how you will support students who don’t have appropriate clothing.
SET A GOAL TO GET OUTSIDE WITH YOUR CLASS
Start small – maybe a goal of 30 minutes of free play time every two weeks. Whatever goal you set, try to keep track, and celebrate the wins! Over at 1000 Hours Outside they have some pretty cool inspiration for trackers you could modify for your goals.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE IN A FOREST TO ENJOY NATURE
Learn how to find and indentify the tiniest natural things growing and living in your own school yard. Plant & insect guides along with simple maginfying glasses are a great way to slow down and see what is around you. Check out the Resources below and start where you feel comfortable.
GO FLY A KITE
What better way to spend time outdoors and interacting with nature than decorating, assembling and then flying your very own Kite? We have seen how children are inspired by this simple experience of learning in and about the natural world countless times. And best of all, our Kites fly in low wind and small spaces, so you don’t need access to huge fields to have a successful Kite Activity.
- Make going outside a part of your regular routine.
- Start using My Visual Journal PDF with your students.
- Go on a Scavenger Hunt PDF
- Make a map of your school yard: from the point of view of a bird in they sky; from the point of view of a tiny ant in the grass; of the sounds they hear when they close their eyes.
In Canada sign up for “Take Me Outside” in October of 2022.
“Designed for self-guided learning, this free program includes a 5-part instructional video series that provides an introductory exploration of Natural Curiosity’s four-branch environmental inquiry framework, deepened by Indigenous perspectives.”
Support all your students. Learn aboout Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in Outdoor Education.