Kids Need Nature

When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time playing outside, getting dirty, and coming home happy. I lived in a city, but I was still able to find cool creeks, small wooded areas, and even private lakes.  All of these places had endless possible discoveries. Unfortunately, young children today do not have as many direct experiences with nature, and it’s taking a toll. Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, maintains that this disconnect from the natural world is producing ill effects in both mind and body. But he’s optimistic that well-meaning, forward-thinking parents and educators can close the kid-nature gap. “We should not think of a child’s experience in nature as an extracurricular activity,” says Louv. “It should be thought of as vital to children’s health and development.”

Richard Louv: Research suggests that a connection to nature is biologically innate; as humans, we have an affinity for the natural world. When children spend most of their time indoors, they miss out. Problems associated with alienation from nature include familiar maladies: depression, obesity, and attention deficit disorder. Kids who have direct access to nature are better learners. Exposure to nature has been shown to reduce stress and increase attention spans.

When a child is out in nature, all the senses get activated. He is immersed in something bigger than himself, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen. He’s seeing, hearing, touching, even tasting. Out in nature, a child’s brain has the chance to rejuvenate, so the next time he has to focus and pay attention, perhaps in school, he’ll do better.

But even if kids don’t have any of the specific problems mentioned above, kids who don’t get out much lack the sense of wonder that only nature can provide. I’ve taken kids into the woods who’ve never been there. At first, they’re scared because it’s unfamiliar, but then you can see them open up and start exploring.

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