Years ago, we walked a mile to school without batting an eye. Then we walked back home, stopping often at the park to play unattended, unsupervised. After all, it was a park and kids were supposed to play there.
These were assumptions we took so placidly in those safer days before Madeleine McCann and Tori Stafford. The stories of these girls' terrible abductions remind us that the situation confronting parents and caregivers is totally different in this day and age. Our kids are driven to school in buses and cars. We would think twice about letting them walk home alone, unsupervised. Allowing them to play alone in the park or woods behind the house is unthinkable.
The result is that our children are growing up with less personal contact with the natural world. As Richard Louv says in his book Last Child Out of the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, "Today, kids are aware of the global threats to the environment--but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading."
Are We Depriving Our children of a Connection with Nature that is Essential for Positive Growth and Development?
This is the question Louv asks in his book. He makes a strong case for the consequences our children will suffer when deprived of an intimate relationship with the natural world. He makes the case for the growing rise of ADHD, ADD and other behavior problems as a direct consequence of a lack of contact with nature in our children's lives. Nature Deficit Disorder is showing up as hyperactivity and violence in our society.
He cites studies that show how exposure to natural settings (even for 20 minutes) increases the capacity for attention and focus in children. Students who take a 20 minute walk in the park perform better on tests of memory and attention. Other research studies show that children in public housing who have access to green space perform better emotionally and intellectually than those who do not have such access. Tests also show that just looking at nature can improve test scores.
Investing in Children
Louv insists that time with nature and in nature is an act of investing in our children's health. It allows them to reconnect with a fundamental part of ourselves that is larger than life and allows them to appreciate the wisdom of cyclical and universal forces.
Take our child hiking as often as we can.
Replace part of our lawn with native plant. Maintain a bird bath.
Have a pebble hunting party in the park or beach.
Build something with the stones and pebbles collected.
Build a tree house or fort in the backyard.
Give our children a pet. It can teach them so much about natural wisdom.
Make a daily Green Hour part of the family tradition.