Preventing Nature Deficit Disorder

Recently, I was surfing one of the hunting forums on which I am a member and came across a post entitled, “Does Your Child Suffer From Nature Deficit Disorder?” This was a term I had never heard (I actually thought it was something the forum poster had created himself), but I suspected it had to do with kids not learning to enjoy and appreciate the outdoors. As I read through the post, I learned that the term was actually coined by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods” and did indeed refer to children spending less time outdoors in our modern society and his hypothesis that this results in a variety of behavioral disorders. It is a sad statement in our culture today that so many children are out of touch with the natural world around them. What can we, as hunters and lovers of the outdoors, do to prevent this?

When I was a kid, I remember spending as much time as I possibly could outdoors. I explored the back acres of our property, playing in the creek, building branch shelters, finding sapling fir trees to transplant, catching insects, looking for rabbits, trying to catch leaves and sticks on fire with a magnifying glass, and building bike trails among the orchard trees. Sometimes I would lie on the grass pretending to be dead to see if the vultures circling above would land by me. My parents often took us to a cabin in the California Sierras to dredge for gold, fish for trout, and explore mountain hideaways. We went camping and explored ghost towns. We caught tadpoles, minnows, crawdad, and turtles. I loved scouting and hunting for elk with my dad. Most of my fondest childhood memories were those spent outdoors.

Later, as a mom to three boys, I spent hours outdoors teaching them to enjoy nature. We caught snakes and frogs, played in the mud, fished, looked for shed antlers, camped, explored, taught them to shoot slingshots, bows, and guns and introduced them to hunting. I let them be boys and didn’t mind if they got muddy or brought creatures into the house (I was usually out there, getting just as muddy and bringing as many critters inside). I tried to impart a love and appreciation for nature and all it had to offer. Today, as grown men, they still enjoy spending time outdoors and I know that some of their fondest childhood memories are those adventures we shared enjoying nature.

Now I am a grandmother, and as I look at my grandchildren I wonder what their future will hold. They are all under 3 years old, but it is never too early to start them on a lifetime path of exploring nature; actually, the younger, the better. My granddaughter, Grace, in particular loves all animals, from snakes and fish to cats, dogs, and goats. When she comes to visit, if the weather allows, I take her outside to look at the trees, flowers, bugs, birds, and goats. I hope that as she gets older, she will continue to want to explore the wonders of the natural world and instead of spending time in front of a TV or behind a computer screen, will choose to be outside.

So what can be done to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder? First and foremost, turn off the TV/computer/Xbox and get the kids outside. Let them play and get dirty. Let them explore. Encourage them to turn over rocks, look for bugs, watch things grow. Let them see life in its natural environment. Plant a garden or a tree. Help them understand the circle of life…and death. Take them fishing, hunting, or hiking. Listen to the crickets and frogs. Let them smell the flowers….literally and figuratively. Go on drives in the country. Go camping. Lie on the lawn and watch the clouds or the stars. Share your enthusiasm and excitement about the outdoors. Teach them respect for animals and the environment. Set limits on their time watching TV and playing video games. Don’t schedule every minute of every day with structured activities. Allow them the freedom to be kids; we spend the majority of our lives as adults. Don’t make them grow up any sooner than they have to.

I am grateful to my parents for introducing me to nature. When I go for even a week without spending time outdoors, I get a terrible case of cabin fever. I can’t describe the feeling of tension I get when I feel trapped indoors, nor the feeling of release and peace when I am outside where I want to be. I bask in it; I immerse myself and every one of my senses comes alive and awake. I can’t imagine a life deprived of such pleasure. I can understand the hypothesis that Nature Deficit would lead to behavior problems because I know I get awfully grumpy when I am stuck inside!

Too many children in today’s society grow up deprived of nature. Take the time to help a child learn about the wonders of the world that do not come with buttons, cords, or batteries. The best way to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder is to expose them to the natural environment and let them be kids. Trust me, you will benefit too: It just might bring out the kid in you!

Apr 18, 2013 | Category: Blog | Comments: none


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