Monday, April 25, 2011

Nature Deficit Disorder - Alarmist or not?

I have worked all semester on creating a presentation for a service learning project as well as writing a paper on what I learned from my reseach.  I also sent out a survey to one of the school's fourth and fifth graders.

My topic was Nature Deficit Disorder.  Below is a very condensed version.  Tell me what you think.  Are children truly at risk because of the decreased amount of time they spend outdoors?  Do children spend less time outside now than they did a generation ago?

“Go out and play” are four little words uttered by Mothers nationwide.  These words have different meanings to different individuals.  For some, playing outside involves team sports such as soccer or baseball.  For others, it means gathering up all the toys that little arms can carry before quickly becoming bored or too hot or too sweaty.  For others it embodies the wild, creative play of tramping through the woods and building stick forts or tiptoeing through a stream while catching frogs.  Author Richard Louv calls this lost connection with the outdoors Nature Deficit Disorder or NDD While NDD is not an actual diagnosis, it hammers home the fact that today’s generation of children struggle with the concept of spending hours outside away from scheduled structure and constant adult direction. 

We as parents have the opportunity to expose our children to an idea bigger than what is taught in the classroom.  Classrooms may assign children to create museum worthy dioramas of the deep blue sea or the jungles of Madagascar but it is vitally important for children to have actual hands-on experience.  This can teach the the life cycle of the frogs they find in their back yard and the differences between the pileated woodpecker and the downy woodpecker and of course the most important, “Leaves of three, let it be.”

Today’s children have become so acclimated to relying on technology for entertainment that when they are sent outdoors it is viewed as a form of punishment.  They often have an overwhelming urge to be entertained as opposed to being able to entertain themselves. 

Nor do they appear to have the freedom to meander through their neighborhood for many reasons.  Parental worries are at the top of that list.  It’s natural and normal to want to protect our children from potential harm, but gone are the days of being outdoors from daylight until dark.

I believe that Nature Deficit Disorder is an abandonment of wilderness.  Children no longer have that ability, time, or inclination to enjoy wild, solitary free play outdoors and if they are outside, they need something to keep them entertained.  Many of today’s children of technology rely heavily on iPods, hand-held video games, and cell phones while other children rely on skateboards and bicycles. I also feel that while the age of technology is here to stay and in most cases is truly a positive benefit; this is one instance where technology should be put aside to allow children to regain lost creativity and embrace the outdoors with unadulterated enthusiasm.   

Author Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods.  I referred to this book many times over the last semester.  A lot of what he has to say is refreshing, but I felt other parts of it were alarmist and it was easy to get lost in the overwhelming amount of details he included.  The book is available on amazon.  The last time I checked you could snag a copy for around $8. 

I look forward to what your opinions are.


Nancy said...

I truly believe it all comes down to the parents. Children need to be given direction, discipline and alternatives.

Technology has become today's babysitter. It's a parent's choice whether TV, Playstations, iPods, et. al., are introduced into their children's world.

Some parents are shortchanging their kids. It's not Sony's fault, or the school's fault, or society's fault.

The blame lies with the parents.

Out on the prairie said...

I have seen this up close and watch children when i introduce them to my love of nature. I read this book recently and shared some thoughts with others.We were told to go out and get rid of the stink when our mom wanted us to straighten up more and nature directed our feelings and behaviors well.

floweringmama said...

Nancy, I agree with you. Children model behavior and when mom and dad can't put down the smart phones or turn off the tv children mimic that behavior.

Steve, I have truly seen children react as if they are being punished when they are told to go outside.

Jules said...

I SO agree with you Kathy and the really sad thing... those same objects that hold their attention came from children who nurtured their imaginations by playing outdoors. I do love the topic you choose :)

BTW, never worry about commenting, I understand your life right now.
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Bossy Betty said...

I agree that children need to be exposed to nature more often than they are. My worry is for the planet--we need to instill in them a sense of wonder now so they will protect all this later on in their lives.

floweringmama said...

You make a great point. If the designers, creators, etc. had not been able to learn and grow and develop their imagination as children, then today's children wouldn't have the benefits that they do.

Betty it boggles my mind how "uncurious" children are.

Leontien said...

I think kids need to be outside a lot more then what they are these days... But to me it seems to get harder and harder as a parent (and i'm not one of those yet) to do just that because of all the video/ indoor games they invent...?


floweringmama said...

Hey Leontien, it is hard. I find myself using tv as a baby sitter when I'm working on my homework. I hate doing that. Fortunately my semester is nearly over and summer is around the corner!

E. Sheppard said...

I think some kids still do get that nature education... if they are involved in Scouts or in 4H. And I wonder if some kids would be well served going out to play or explore with maybe a sitter or an older sibling? Or even (gasp) a parent?

Jean said...

I have that book and picked my way though it. The topic is an important one but feel Mr. Louv could have done a better job with the book.

I agree that it is up to the parents and maybe even the grandparents to ensure our wee ones get exposed to Nature.

A little TV especially when the shows are educational is not a bad thing. As with everything...balance is the key.

Great topic!