Are you and your children spending enough time in nature? Or are you stuck indoors or glued to your devices? You could develop Nature Deficit Disorder. It is never too late to get back to nature and nurture your mind and body.
What is nature deficit disorder?
These days, most of us spend a major part of our life within the confines of four walls. Most of us wish we were out there, far away from life’s hectic pace, the yearning to regroup and recharge drops pretty low down the priority list.
However, I have good news for you. Mother Nature’s loving arms are always open and welcoming. She understands that when we spend a lot of time indoors, it can create havoc with our health—causing physical and emotional distress. It can also lead to anxiety, depression and obesity, especially in kids—who become less focused at school.
Connecting with nature can be as simple as a walk in the park, or if you live near the beach, a walk on the beach enjoying the waves and digging your feet into the sand.
The problem is, we get so engrossed with our lives that we forget that we must disconnect to connect.
Fortunately, Nature is freely available to explore and has a direct measurable value from the mind-body angle. The immediate benefits one can enjoy are better overall health with lower blood pressure. Access to nature also leads to less stress. A walk in the park can be better than antidepressants for treating depression. Those who work in an environment with plants or green spaces like parks or woods nearby are happier and healthier.
In particular reference to children, experts state that when children are not in regular contact with nature, their academic performance and growth suffers. And this leads to Nature Deficit Disorder. The phrase was coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods which explains how the disconnection with nature has a negative effect on children today.
Thanks to rapid urban development, fewer children are able to play outdoors. And the present “plugged in” culture adds to the issue by keeping children indoors. While some adapt, the ones that don’t adapt develop the signs of NDD: difficulty focusing, obesity, anxiety and depression.
Of course, nature is not a magic remedy to cure sickness; however, parents can certainly leverage it as a therapy to help children stay attentive, build self-confidence, improve health and stay balanced.
We cannot deny that children are happier when they are outdoors.
There’s evidence from research that nature can be a potential natural treatment for ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) linking nature and behaviour. Green outdoor settings reduce ADHD symptoms in children. Nature therapy is important, considering how many children are treated with the drug Ritalin for ADHD.
I ask you: don’t you recall happy childhood memories of playing outside with your friends? What about summer vacations spent outdoors almost all the time? Some of you may have been lucky enough to even set up a tent or build a tree house. I remember spending all day in the yard collecting strange leaves and grinding them into a chutney and actually eating it in our pretend kitchen. I have lovely memories of family picnics, sleeping under the stars.
NDD is a timely reminder of glorious days past—an urge to get off that treadmill and enjoy Nature again.
In his book, Louv suggests that schools, while teaching children about nature, should take them outdoors on field trips and excursions, making it a part of the learning experience.
Now, as parents, one of our biggest goals is healthy children. What can we do to re-establish our children’s connection with nature and promote their well-being?
Some tips suggested by Louv are:
- Invite native flora and fauna into our lives. For example: maintain a bird bath. Add native plants to your garden, balcony, or lawn.
- Encourage children to discover a hidden Universe. This can be done by placing a scrap board on bare dirt. After a couple of days, lift the board to see what’s under it. Identify the creatures that have made it their shelter. Come back once a month to see who’s new.
- Suggest traditional hobbies such as collecting leaves, making a terrarium or aquarium. Go fishing.
- Enjoy backyard camping with a tent/canvas tepee during summer.
- Cloudspotting with a backyard weather station. No special equipment required, except a view of the sky and a book to note down observations.
Cirrostratus, cumulonimbus, or lenticularis, shaped like flying saucers, come to remind us that the clouds are Nature’s poetry, spoken in a whisper in the rarefied air between crest and crag– Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloudspotter’s Guide.
- Create green hour as a family tradition, practice it daily. This hour can be time for unstructured play and interaction with nature. Begin with fifteen minutes. Some age-appropriate independent exploration to help children develop new skills and build their confidence.
- Enjoy a hike. Can be a short route for smaller kids. Or gather neighborhood mommies with their strollers and go for weekly nature walks.
- Play a nature game: find ten creatures in the vicinity—birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, snails, frogs—can be footprints, mile holes and other signs that animals have passed by or live there.
- Get children to build a tree house/fort/hut with simple raw materials such as boards, sticks, blankets, boxes, ropes.
- Plant a garden. Choose seeds that grow quickly and yield vegetables that can be used by the family. Extra produce can be shared with neighbors or donated to food banks. Live in an apartment? Consider a vertical garden and containers.
Reconnecting with nature is best viewed as a stress-buster for the whole family, rather than another thing on the to-do list. The best thing is, nature therapy is enjoyable and inexpensive, with zero side-effects, unless you count the positive ones. Even if your child doesn’t get better grades as a result, the joy of spending time in nature, lost in Nature’s wonder with family is priceless.
The value of getting your children away from their “screens” is priceless.
With summer upon us, if you are planning to send your children to a summer camp, how about choosing one that gives them unstructured time in nature, where they can use their senses and enjoy themselves?
You know what they say…take time to smell the flowers.
Prevent Nature Deficit Disorder.
“Nature is imperfectly perfect filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.” Louv