Nature Birthday PartyEditor's note: We're pleased to welcome our newest writer, Jennifer Lance, to the team. Jennifer is the author and publisher of the blog Eco Child's Play, where she reviews natural toys. She'll be covering green family issues for us.
You've probably heard of attention deficit disorder, but have you heard about nature deficit disorder? Richard Louv has written about the link between these two disorders and their effects on one another in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.
According to a University of Illinois study published in the American Journal of Public Health, children five years old and older with ADHD showed significant reductions in symptoms when they were engaged in nature. Louv writes, "In fifty-four of fifty-six cases, outdoor activities in more natural settings led to a greater reduction in ADHD symptoms than activities in less natural areas. The only instances when symptoms worsened occurred in the artificial environments. In a related experiment, the laboratory found that children could focus on specific tasks better in green settings."
My children do not have ADHD, but like all children, they have their difficult moments. When the tension builds up inside our home, we head out for hike or to work in the garden and calmness returns. Louv also writes about the importance of nature for all children. He quotes researcher Nancy Wells of New York State University stating that, "green spaces may enable children to think more clearly and cope more effectively with life stress." I know this is true in my family.
Louv's ideas expressed in his book Last Child in the Woods, has sparked a movement entitled Leave No Child Inside, a movement to correct "nature-deficit disorder". According to Louv, "Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience their neighborhoods and the natural world has changed radically. Even as children and teenagers become more aware of global threats to the environment, their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.
As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: 'I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.'"
His desire is not at all uncommon. In a typical week, only 6 percent of children age nine to thirteen play outside on their own. Studies by the National Sporting Goods Association and by American Sports Data, a research firm, show a dramatic decline in the past decade in such outdoor activities as swimming and fishing. Even bike riding is down 31 percent since 1995.
In San Diego, according to a survey by the nonprofit Aquatic Adventures, 90 percent of inner-city kids do not know how to swim; 34 percent have never been to the beach. In suburban Fort Collins, Colorado, teachers shake their heads in dismay when they describe the many students who have never been to the mountains visible year-round on the western horizon.
Raspberry HuntUrban, suburban, and even rural parents cite a number of everyday reasons why their children spend less time in nature than they themselves did, including disappearing access to natural areas, competition from television and computers, dangerous traffic, more homework, and other pressures." I feel blessed to raise my children in the mountains, where we discover the wonders of nature around us on our daily hikes. Just this week we saw a green tree frog, a dead sparrow hack, shooting stars, and a trillium making its first spring appearance.
To quote a Senegalese ecologist, "“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
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