At last! Something I can obsess about! A disorder that can truly get my knickers in a knot! As you know, I have a little habit of reading scary books about how easy it is to completely screw up your kids, so it’s little wonder that this one caught my eye – Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s by Richard Louv and it has sold a squillion copies in the US where it seems people really are intent on screwing up their kids.
First let me tell you that nature-deficit disorder is not a medical term; rather, it’s a theoretical condition posed by the author. But something about it just leaps out, doesn’t it? We all know that kids used to play outside from sun-up until sun-down, but now we’re too scared to let them walk down the street alone. And we know that tree-climbing is a lost art, that tree houses now require planning permission and a kit from Bunnings.
Some time ago, I interviewed a professor of theology about how to raise kids with spirituality when you don’t subscribe to any particular religion. One of the key things he recommended was getting kids out into nature as often as possible. According to Last Child, nature not only provides kids with a sense of wonder and awe, but natural setting help with balance and co-ordination, boost creative thinking and can ease the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders.
It’s certainly clear to me that nature calms. Since he was a tiny baby, Alfie has been soothed by wind or trees or simply lying on the grass. The other night, I had him out way too late and he went into complete meltdown. As soon as we stepped into the night air outside, he relaxed. I make a habit of walking home from day care via a park, or spending some time in the garden and it definitely improves his mood.
There were a couple of things in Last Child that really struck me and I’ll share them with you now…
A study of toddlers in the US found that out of 78 three-year-olds, most were active for only twenty minutes a day. How is this possible, you might ask? The researcher, from the University for Maryland, describes these children as “containerized kids”. They go from car-seat to stroller to high-chair to baby seat in front of the TV. Since reading that, I’ve made more of an effort to make Alfie walk or to play active games, even though both are often exceedingly tedious for me!
The other one that struck me was another study, this time in Denmark, that compared kids playing in a traditional concreted play space, and those in a more natural setting. It won’t surprise you to know that the kids in the second group were far more creative in their play, getting into make-believe and imagination-based games. On our regular afternoon walks with the dog, we tend to visit either the dog park or a nearby playground and it’s obvious that Alfie gets more out of the natural, rough and often hazardous (ie poo hazards) environment at the dog park. No trip there is ever the same, yet we do exactly the same things in the same order when we go to the playground. Hmmm, something to think about.
So how do you help your kids engage with nature? Do you find it makes a difference?
Gorgeous image by Fran Forman, to view her photostream, click here