Nature-deficit disorder is a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, published in 2005. Having spent ten years traveling around the country, in both rural and urban areas, asking parents and children alike about their experiences in nature, he discovered that in the last two generations there has been a significant decline in time spent enjoying nature.1
Where once children were allowed to roam the countryside and play freely outdoors with little or no supervision, today’s children live in a very different environment. There are fewer opportunities for free play with their lives much more structured and supervised. With the enhanced “stranger-danger” fear that is overexposed in the media, many children are not allowed outside alone, and with working parents they are often restricted to staying indoors until parents get home. In a typical week, it has been found that only six percent of children between nine and thirteen play outside on their own. With the emphasis on standardized testing from the No Child Left Behind Act, children are also often inundated with homework.2 Over-scheduled children have their time filled with organized sports and lessons, and with television, computers, video games, and cell phones, their average screen time is 7.5 hours, keeping them indoors.3
Last Child in the Woods sparked a national debate that started an international movement to reconnect children and nature. The call-to-action has influenced national policy and helped inspire campaigns in over eighty cities, states, and provinces throughout North America.4 The No Child Left Inside Act has been introduced into Congress to encourage environmental education and greater outdoor play activities for school children.5 There is an increasing concern for the future of conservation and environmentalism if children continue to be nature-deprived and not learn to love the outdoors.6
Richard and five other leaders in diverse fields created the nonprofit Children & Nature Network in 2006 with the initiative to “Leave No Child Inside.”7 Their mission is to reconnect children to nature for two purposes: the physical health, cognitive development, and emotional well-being of the child, and the good of the planet.8
There are many benefits for children who regularly engage in play in natural settings. Studies have shown they are more resistant to stress; have lower incidence of behavioral disorders, anxiety, and depression; and have a higher measure of self-worth. Children score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. They show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance, and agility. Their play is more diverse with more imaginative and creative play that fosters language and social skills. Children’s cognitive development is improved by increasing their awareness, observational, and reasoning skills while engaged in nature play.9
It has been discovered that children with Attention Deficit Disorder have improved symptoms with calming effects when playing in green outdoor settings as compared to indoor or non-green outdoor settings. Allowing children with Attention Deficit Disorder to play outdoors, especially among natural settings with trees and greenery, can aid their focus on tasks and lessen their impulsive, sometimes aggressive behavior.10
The love of the outdoors has been described as biophilia, a term evolutionary psychologists use to describe an innate, emotional attraction to nature and living organisms. Children are instinctively attracted to nature and animals when given opportunities for outdoor play. However, if children are restricted from playing outdoors, they could develop an aversion to nature, called biophobia, where they are not comfortable in natural settings and have little regard for preserving nature.11
- 1. Karnasiewicz, Sarah. “Do today’s kids have ‘nature-deficit disorder’?” Salon.com. < http://dir.salon.com/story/mwt/feature/2005/06/02/Louv/index.html > 13 July 2011.
- 2. Louv, Richard. “Leave No Child Inside.” Orion Magazine. < http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/240/ > 13 July 2011.
- 3. Lewin, Tamar. “If Your Kids Are Awake, They’re Probably Online.” The New York Times. < http:///www.nytimes.com/2010/01/20/education/20wired.html > 15 July 2011.
- 4. “Books by Richard Louv.” Richard Louv. < http://richardlouv.com/books/ > 13 July 2011.
- 5. “About the No Child Left Inside Act.” No Child Left Inside. < http://www.cbf.org/Page.aspx?pid=948 > 3 Aug 2010.
- 6. Op. cit., Louv.
- 7. “Children and Nature 2009: A Report on the Movement to Reconnect Children to the Natural World.” Children & Nature Network. < http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/CNNMovement2009.pdf > 7 June 2011.
- 8. Children & Nature Network 2010 Report, Introduction.” Children & Nature Network. < http://www.childrenandnature.org/downloads/C&NNReport_2010.pdf > 7 June 2011.
- 9. Smith, Leon. “Research on Nature, Children, and Play.” Planet Earth Playscapes. <http://www.planetearthplayscapes.com> 02 Sept. 2010.
- 10. “ADD Kids: ‘Go Out and Play!’” University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Landscape and Human Health Laboratory. < http://lhhl.illinois.edu/adhd.htm > 01 Sept. 2010.
- 11. White, Randy. “Moving from Biophobia to Biophilia: Developmentally Appropriate Environmental Education for Children.” White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. < http://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/biophilia.shtml > 10 June 2011.