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Get Outside: What is Nature Deficit Disorder?

Group of cute kids sitting together in forest and looking at camera. Cute children playing in woods.

“Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”

What is Nature-Deficit Disorder?

Nature-deficit disorder is a term coined by American author Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” Though not an official medical diagnosis, this term describes the human costs of isolation from nature. It is no secret that children today are spending significantly less time outdoors than previous generations.

Our increasingly technological world makes flopping down in front of the TV or getting lost in an Ipad all but second nature. The average American child spends 4-7 minutes per day playing outside, compared to 7 hours per day in front of a screen! This begs the question, what are the long-term consequences of this severe withdrawal from the natural world?

Scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to attention difficulties, obesity conditions, diminished use of senses, and increased mental and physical illness rates. Developing children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of nature-deficit disorder. However, it also affects adults, and sometimes, entire communities.

Thankfully nature-deficit disorder is not only avoidable but also reversible! This week we will explore what we know about nature-deficit disorder and how we can save the youth of tomorrow from the adverse effects of losing touch with the great outdoors.

Five Facts About Nature Deficit Disorder

  1. 1
    The Definition
    Nature-deficit disorder is the idea that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, and the belief that this change results in a wide range of behavioral problems.
  2. 2
    The Culprits
    Author Richard Louv, who coined the term, believes the main culprits of nature-deficit disorder are as follows: over protective parents, not having access to natural spaces, the lure of modern technology and the preference for screen-based entertainment.
  3. 3
    The Effect
    A series of health problems are thought to correspond with limited time outdoors. Nature-deficit disorder has been linked to ADHD, childhood obesity, childhood anxiety, and depression.
  4. 4
    The Organizations
    Kids spending more time inside interacting with technology instead of outside using their imaginations has sparked a wide movement to try and remedy this "endemic of inactivity." A few of the organizations that have emerged from this movement are the Children & Nature Network and the No Child Left Inside Coalition.
  5. 5
    The Long Term?
    Richard Louv's fear of this "epidemic of inactivity" goes beyond the concern for the health and wellbeing of today's children. It is his concern that spending limited time in nature creates an apathy for nature. It is his belief that todays generations are un interested in caring for the planet because they do not interact with our planet's natural environments.

Table of Contents

Mother and her little sons hiking trough forest .They learning a

6 Benefits From Being Outside

Studies have shown that even just viewing a picture of greenery can have positive influences on mental health. Considering that, imagine what getting outside for a hike in the woods can do! The idea of nature-deficit disorder and its effects on children has sparked an entire movement of outdoor education enthusiasts, all brainstorming ways to get kids outside! Spending more time in nature offers a plethora of benefits to developing children.  

From building self-confidence to developing a healthy body and mind, spending at least one hour outdoors a day can have a lasting positive impact on the rest of a child’s life. Read on to discover 6 of the top benefits that come with playing in nature! 

1. Sun Exposure

Happy family together in nature against the blue sky.

The sun is of vital importance for our bodies to make vitamin D, an essential vitamin that supports healthy bone growth and immune system functionality. Sun exposure also promotes a healthy sleep cycle and improves mood. Our bodies work best with at least some sun exposure every day.

2. Exercise

A growing child should be spending at least one hour being active every day. The best activity for a child is unstructured playtime outside, giving them a chance to exercise their mind and imagination just as much as their body!

Group of four kids having fun with soap bubbles in forest. Friends trying to catch the bubbles, playing together.

3. Executive Function

Unstructured free time in nature benefits the skills that help us plan, prioritize, troubleshoot, negotiate, and multitask. Being given the time and space to tap into imagination is essential for the developing mind. Creating games, figuring things out, self-amusement, all found once a child steps outside!

4. Taking Risks

A child will never learn what they can do without at least some space to make mistakes and problem solve from them. The lessons we learn from failure are just as important as the ones we learn from success!

Happy little boy with magnifying glass explorer and learning the

5. Socialization

Having unstructured play time with other children gives kids an opportunity to learn how to work together, how to make friends, and how to share and cooperate. These essential socialization skills are more difficult to learn in a schedule packed with structured, pre-planned activities.

6. Appreciation of Nature

Our world depends on our future generations. Today’s children having a deep personal connection with the nature on this planet is essential for its survival. How could anyone know how to appreciate wild animals or playing in a stream if they’ve never experienced any of it?

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