By: Delana H Stewart
“…at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature—in positive ways.” (p. 3 LC)
A co-worker of mine recommended that I read the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. The title certainly intrigued me as I wondered about my own family and whether or not we suffered the effects of not being in nature enough. Through the years research has certainly been done to show the benefits of nature on hospital patients, office workers, and stressed-out travelers in busy international airports. Mr. Louv provides additional research and information regarding the effects on classroom students, particularly those diagnosed with disorders, such as ADHD. If you are concerned about your own family and are curious about ways to either get out into nature more or bring it into your home, workplace, and community, read the summary below and consider getting your own copy ofLast Child in the Woods (LC). His newest addition includes a field guide with at least 100 ways to improve your home, school, workplace, or community to make it more nature friendly.
As parents and teachers, we emphasize the importance of eating healthy, eating a good breakfast, and getting plenty of sleep at night. Louv stresses that for kids with ADD or other maladies, exposing them to nature can be just as therapeutic as “good nutrition and adequate sleep” (p. 3). As a parent of a child with ADD, I know the benefits of medicines such as Concerta and Strattera; however, I am always looking for ways to make sure I am doing everything possible non-medically as well. Louv points out that the woods were his “Ritalin” and that nature had a calming effect, enabling him to focus better (p. 10 LC). He shows research done by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation linking mental health problems to a sedentary childhood. He states that “unstructured outdoor recreation…doesn’t cost anything,” which is true monetarily speaking; however, it costs parents an investment of time and intentionality (p. 33 LC). Some parents already spend time taking kids to all kinds of organized sports and activities, so for them it would be a shift of hanging out at the park instead. For parents who tend to hang out indoors with their kids, let this challenge you to improve not only your kids’ physical and mental health, but yours as well.
Louv makes an excellent point, though, that because playing in nature has no monetary cost, no one is willing to fund the research to point out the benefits. He quotes James Sallis, program director of the Active Living Research Program as saying, “If kids are out there riding their bikes or walking, they’re not burning fossil fuel, they’re nobody’s captive audience, they’re not making money for anybody…follow the money” (p. 33 LC). I believe that if kids are prisoners to advertising agencies and game machine companies then not only are those businesses making money, but doctors, psychologists, and pharmaceutical companies are, too.
Take a look at your family and consider the amount of time you spend in nature, by keeping a log of time spent actually touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, and even tasting nature. Many small children today, according to Louv, “spend more and more time in car seats, high chairs, and even baby seats for watching TV. When they do go outside, they are often placed in containers—strollers—and pushed by walking or jogging parents. Most kid-containerizing is done for safety concerns, but the long-term health of these children is compromised.”
As we look more into Mr. Louv’s book Last Child in the Woods, we will learn more about the ways nature improves physical and emotional health, reduces symptoms of ADHD, improves cognitive abilities, and increases “resistance to negative stresses and depression” (p. 35 LC). Because of these issues, and to further discussion on the matter, Louv has called this phenomena: nature-deficit disorder.
And, on Delana’s World, read:
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