Vital Ingredient Missing in Children’s Lives: Nature

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Last Child in the Woods

“The child in nature is an endangered species,” wrote Richard Louv.

His 2005 book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder,” argues that children’s mental, spiritual and physical health are linked to the natural world. Just as children need good nutrition and adequate sleep, so they need contact with nature, he wrote.

Last Child in the WoodsBut children today spend far less time outdoors than they did in the past.

For example, the Outdoor Foundation conducted a survey in 2009 of more than 41,000 young people between the ages of 6 and 25.

It found that youth participation in outdoor recreation declined since 2006 in all age groups and among both boys and girls.

Research shows many benefits of kids being outdoors.

For example, a 2003 study by Cornell associate professor Nancy Wells found that plants, green views and access to natural play areas helped reduce stress among highly stressed children.

Research published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being in 2011 found that children with ADHD who played regularly in green settings had milder symptoms than other kids with ADHD.

And a long-term study from 1998 showed that wilderness-based programs had life-changing effects on teenagers. The majority of teens reported the experience to be “one of the best in their life.” They reported positive effects in personal and intellectual development — and, in some cases, spiritual development. The survey showed increased self-esteem, self-confidence, independence, autonomy and initiative. The longitudinal study found these results persisted over time.

Louv, who is chairman of the Children & Nature Network, wants to bring back the study of natural history. He wants to reconnect children with the natural world through such things as adventure playgrounds and city designs that include green spaces for play.

Of course, youth organizations have a role to play in connecting kids with nature. For many, it’s already a part of their focus. Other organizations can take a new look at their services.

Back to main story "What Happened to Summertime Play?"

Some resources for connecting kids with the natural world

  • Children & Nature Network seeks to create nature-rich cities and inspire nature-smart leaders. Its website lists organizations that promote children’s exploration of nature and provides research and toolkits for teachers and youth leaders.
  • Let’s Go Outside, a program of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has resources for youth groups, educators, kids and families — as well as a guide for creating a schoolyard habitat for wildlife.
  • Be Out There, a program of The National Wildlife Federation suggests outdoor activities and nature sites to visit.