Sunday, February 7, 2016

Nature Deficit Disorder

Awhile ago, I was searching for a book club that met in the daytime, and I stumbled across one mentioned on the Shelby Farms website. According to the website, the next book to be discussed was Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. I emailed the organizer that I was interested and checked the book out of the library. Pretty soon, the organizer emailed me that the book club was on hiatus but since I already had the book, I began to read it.

This book is about the fact that, for the most part, children growing up today do not get the natural contact with nature that previous generations did. The author calls this "nature deficit disorder."  He proposes that there are many benefits to children (and adults) from being outside, apart from the general physical benefits of additional exercise and the mental benefits of play. One study he mentioned compared preschool children who played on typical flat playgrounds with children who played in a more natural area among trees, rocks and uneven ground. This study reported that over a year's time, the children who played in a more natural area tested higher for motor fitness, especially in balance and agility. This makes complete sense to me, but it is not something I would have thought about on my own.

The parts of the book that were especially compelling to me talked about the effects of the "restorative environment." Most of us who are gardeners and other lovers of nature know right away what this means. I find that being in the garden among my favorite plants lifts me up in a way that nothing else does. And I think "restorative environment" goes beyond the idea that sitting on a bench in a pretty garden is soothing. I think that digging in the soil to plant a seed, cutting back spent foliage, spreading good compost to feed the soil, and, yes, even pulling up weeds all create a restorative environment. (But I might be hard pressed to convince Jack on that last one!)

Several weeks ago, I blogged about taking a hike with my older grandson and how he was transformed by being outside. My younger grandson, even in very cold weather, loves to make his way to the backyard after school, where he jumps on the trampoline. Occasionally, I'll look out to see him lying on his back and looking up at the sky or watching some bird in the tree. It seems that children sense they have a need to connect with the larger community of Life, even though, if left to their own devices they will often heed the siren's call of the television or latest video game.

In this busy, high-tech world, helping the children in our lives maintain a connection with nature seems to get harder and harder. But let's keep trying.

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