N. Leigh Dunlap


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Nature Deficit

What has been shown to improve intellectual development, combat obesity, sharpen concentration, reduce stress, promote creative problem solving and may even combat childhood disorders like ADHD? Hint: it’s not available in pill form. It’s early and frequent exposure to nature…what our mothers used to call “playing outdoors”.

There was a time when the average healthy kid could be found climbing a tree, watching an anthill, or playing by a stream. It’s what children have done for thousands of years, but in the past couple of decades, kids have been abandoning the wild places in favor of TV, internet, malls and organized sports. So, does it really matter? According to a number of studies, yes. There is growing suspicion among researchers that the rise in childhood obesity and the increased incidence of ADHD in kids coincide with this trend away from nature.

Does this mean you’re supposed to throw out the TV and pull the kids out of soccer? Not at all; it does suggest that kids need more unorganized, unscheduled time to stop and, well…smell the flowers. Various experts even argue the benefits of boredom; it’s a great motivator, encouraging kids to rev up their imaginations and find something interesting to do. And it’s this imaginative life that plays such an important role in kids’ overall development and well-being. Whether it’s lying under a tree, collecting bugs, gazing at clouds or turning over rocks, these outdoor activities give kids space to daydream, question, explore. It also lays the early groundwork for a rich spiritual life.

No matter where you live, there is state or national parkland within a couple hours drive, perfect for family picnicking, hiking or fishing. Then too, the local park, your backyard, even an empty lot is host to an amazing world of nature going on largely unseen right under our noses. So, give your kids one unscheduled afternoon a week and when they complain that they’re bored, tell them to “go outside and play”.

Resources:

Kids:

Begin a collection of rocks, leaves, flowers or insects. Start nearby and discover what lives in your area. Label your items with masking tape and marker and keep them in a shallow box or scrapbook. Or, keep a naturalist’s journal and draw the items you find.