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Nature Deficit Disorder: Sticks, Dirt, and Your Child's Health

Nature deficit disorder and child development

Too much concrete, not enough dirt and sticks

I’m raising a city kid.

Sure we have plenty of parks and playgrounds in our neighborhood, but when we actually get out on a more adventurous journey — a camping trip or a long hike — I realize just how nature-deprived his day to day life really is.

I remember when he was a baby if he was crying and I took him outside, he would immediately stop. There’s something relaxing and mood-boosting about the natural light, the breeze, the smells and sounds of the outdoors.

Today, journalist Julie Deardorff moderated an interesting live chat with author Richard Louv, who coined the term “nature deficit disorder.” He had a lot of facts and tips to offer, for example he said that over 100 studies have shown that the outdoors reduces stress for both children and adults. We’re not biologically programmed to spend our days inside, and especially for children, whose brains and bodies are growing so fast, being in nature seems essential to healthy development.

So what can you do to combat nature deficit in your family? Here are some tips that came out of Louv’s discussion:

Nature is an antidote to the high-tech world. There’s no changing the fact that we live amongst gadgets and technology, but being in nature is an important counterbalance.

Follow your child’s lead. Go at your child’s pace and watch your expectations. If you’re on a fishing trip, your child might actually enjoy digging in the dirt with a stick while you fish. That’s great. If you’re hiking with little kids, know that they like to stop and start — that’s okay, it forces you to slow down too.

Make a “wonder bowl” for treasures. My son loves to collect sticks and rocks — I’m constantly finding them in toy baskets, the car trunk, tupperware bowls in the kitchen…make a place for your child’s treasure to collect it in one spot. The collecting itself is a motivator for kids to get outside.

Getting out is the hardest part. They might put up a fuss, but don’t you find that once they’re out, running and climbing it’s all uphill from there? And what about the kind of play kids engage in when they’re out — is it too limited and supervised by parents?

Don’t be afraid of boredom: Kids might seem sluggish and unsure of what to do next when they’re outside. But when kids are bored, they get creative. Boredom is underrated.

I love being outside with my son. But as my friends know, playgrounds make me tired. I know, I know, kids love them and I’ll be dragging myself to the playground for the next five years, but I’d rather be running in a field, rolling down a hill, or collecting sticks to make a pretend camp fire. One of our favorite things to do is walk in the neighborhood after dinner and talk about what we see (in the winter, it’s a “nightwalk”).

Do you have any thoughts on getting kids more time in nature?

Image: flickr

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