Nature Deficit Disorder: What You Need to Know
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How important is a walk in the woods to a child's development? It's one of the most burning education questions of the day, and, according to experts, a lack of routine contact with nature may result in stunted academic and developmental growth. This unwanted side-effect of the electronic age is called Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).
The term was coined by author Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods in order to explain how our societal disconnect with nature is affecting today's children. Louv says we have entered a new era of suburban sprawl that restricts outdoor play, in conjunction with a plugged-in culture that draws kids indoors. But, as Louv presents in his book, the agrarian, nature-oriented existence hard-wired into human brains isn't quite ready for the overstimulating environment we've carved out for ourselves. Some children adapt. Those who don't develop the symptoms of NDD, which include attention problems, obesity, anxiety, and depression.
Louv says while nature shouldn't be seen as the magic bullet to cure all ailments, parents should see the woods, streams, fields and canyons around their home as a type of therapy to keep kids focused, confident, healthy, and balanced. “Kids learn better when they get outside. It's a way to truly help our kids learn in all areas of education,” he says. Studies also show links between nature and behavior: kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) thrive when put in routine contact with nature in documented test cases. Louv says this is especially relevant when taking into account the number of kids treated for ADHD with drugs such as Ritalin. “We have to begin to question how many pharmaceuticals we are putting into our kids,” Louv says. “We have to start looking at nature therapy.”
While Nature Deficit Disorder isn't a clinical term, the concept has struck a chord with parents and educators. The child-nature reunion has emerged as a movement, and Louv says this is because the concept rings true for a generation of parents and grandparents who are reminded of their own joyous experiences in nature as children; whether it be summer camp, building a tree house, or, in Louv's case, helping turtles across the road during migration season. “People are so much on the treadmill. They need to be reminded that once upon a time childhood was different. People have prized and cherished memories of their time in nature, and it's disdainful for people to think that this has passed,” he says.
Since 2005, when Last Child in the Woods hit the shelves, several studies have been published backing up the importance of the child-nature reunion. The American Institutes for Research conducted a study of the impact of a weeklong residential outdoor education program on at risk youth. Students involved in the program experienced a 27 percent increase in their mastery of science concepts, better problem solving skills, enhanced self esteem, and improved behavior in comparison with the control group stuck in the classroom.
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