Do you ever feel like kids are starting to become entrapped by the limitations of their man-made surroundings? I recently read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv and really enjoyed what he had to say. He talks about the need to try to save our children from “nature deficit disorder.” A relationship with our natural world is so important to us as humans and it is something that our children are starting to grow up without. Because of safety concerns, kids aren’t allowed to run around in fields or play in streams. Kids are spending more time outside in strollers and other things that restrain them rather than allowing them to play untethered in nature. Louv writes that urban rules (such as home owners associations) are starting to prohibit kids from doing things like skateboarding or building tree houses. In the name of conservation, increasingly strict regulations keep people from interacting in nature the way they used to. One such example in Louv’s book is a story of an old man who grew up flying kites on a local beach, but is now barred from doing so for the sake of a species of endangered bird. According to Louv, kids are spending increasingly more time indoors doing structured activities rather than having unstructured time outdoors.
The book gave me a lot to think about. It is mostly full of information that I’ve felt was true but had no proof of or hadn’t thought to put in words, but some things had never occurred to me. For example, I had never thought about how loving and wanting to conserve nature could actually stand in opposition to loving and wanting to play in and be a part of nature. And I hadn’t really given much thought about going on walks with kids in strollers or packs. It’s still a gateway to being in nature and loving and appreciating it, but a big way that kids learn is to touch things. It might be easier and necessary at times to have them in a pack or a stroller, but it is also important, at other times, to let them crawl in the dirt, play with mud, stop and pick up every stick and rock on a nature trail, inspect insects, feel tree bark, throw rocks in the stream, and etc. (Just make sure to thoroughly check them for ticks!! I had lyme disease when I was a kid- no fun.) Although I have always let my kids play in the dirt, I hadn’t thought before about the difference of seeing nature from a stroller or pack and experiencing nature with their little hands!
There are all sorts of statistics about why time in nature is important. According to different studies, kids who spend more time in nature can experience lesser effects of ADHD, are sick less often, concentrate better, etc. etc. For adults there are health benefits to spending time outdoors just as feeling less stress, more vitamin D, more exercise, …. But even without all of these studies, I can just SEE how spending time indoors vs. outdoors affects my children and myself. Everyone (especially me- I experience a little seasonal affective disorder) is in a better mood when we get to spend time outdoors. Unstructured imaginative play happens so much more naturally. Whining levels drop- especially whining to watch shows. They feel less of a need to be entertained when they can be outside for long periods of time. And we all just enjoy it- which is important to me because I really want my family to enjoy the outdoors together. I hope that even when my kids are teenagers they would rather go camping or hang out by a lake or lay outside and read a great book than be on whatever electronic device we’ve come up with by that time.
Have you experienced benefits from spending time outdoors?
I will be doing some “Children in Nature” posts about different kinds of outdoor activities my family loves. Stay tuned 🙂