Monday, April 2, 2012

Nature Deficit

Almost half of preschool children aren't taken outside to play by their parents on a daily basis, a new study finds.

In fact, 49 percent of children don't go outside with mom or dad for a walk or playtime each day, according to the research. The study was based on a nationally representative sample of 8,950 preschool children.
Many Parents Not Taking Kids Outside to Play (Live Science)
UK children are losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education are suffering, a National Trust report says. Traffic, the lure of video screens and parental anxieties are conspiring to keep children indoors, it says. Evidence suggests the problem is worse in the UK than other parts of Europe, and may help explain poor UK rankings in childhood satisfaction surveys.

The trust is launching a consultation on tackling "nature deficit disorder".

"When you build a den with your mates when you're nine years old, you learn teamwork - you disagree with each other, you have arguments, you resolve them, you work together again - it's like a team-building course, only you did it when you were nine."

The phrase nature deficit disorder was coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv, who argued that the human cost of "alienation from nature" was measured in "diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses".

In the UK as in many other countries, rates of obesity, self-harm and mental health disorders diagnosed in children have climbed significantly since the 1970s.
Nature deficit disorder 'damaging Britain's children' (BBC)
Wilderness therapy involves taking kids out into nature. Which, some studies suggest, is not only beneficial for children with difficulties like ADHD, but might actually be necessary for most of us to remain productive and functional human beings.

I started working with adolescent boys and girls, treating mood disorders, oppositional disorders, drug addiction. The movement that I saw them experience in a period of six or seven weeks was more profound than I saw in any of the out-patient treatment centers that I’d worked at or even any of the residential treatment centers that I had worked at.

Reed says the secret isn’t just all that fresh air and sunshine.

A lot of what I attribute the success to is what we call primitive living. We provide them supplies. We provide them food and all the gear that they need, but they have to do everything themselves every day. They have to build their own shelter. They have to cook their own food. They make fire every day to cook on and stay warm by. They do it in small groups of eight to 10 students. Every lesson you want to impart to them is implicit in daily living.

Which makes me wonder: If wilderness therapy is so good for a troubled psyche, isn’t that kind of a profound indictment of our modern, always-on way of life?
Wilderness therapist: Good job or BEST job? (Grist)

Yes. Yes it is.


  1. Students of all ages know it's just make-work and they're learning no skills they can use and enjoy.
    After school, I always worked on a project or just wandered around enjoying what was out there (nothing special in far suburbia, but still, I knew what grew in each yard and who owned the neat cars).
    Nothing on TV, no electronic addictions. People still scoff that I like to do dishes by hand!

  2. It's also amazing how "supervised" kids are today. As if being institutionalized from birth wasn't rotten enough, now even their free time has to be comprised of "structured" activities by their helicopter parents to make sure they "succeed". It seems kids today can't do any activity today without an adult standing over them with a whistle and stopwatch and while wearing a uniform. Supposedly, this promotes "teamwork", but what it really promotes is conformity, rule-follwing, obedience, and a celebration of winning. Kids are taught that the world is "us" and "them", rules are absolute and not to be questioned, and the purpose of life is to win some arbitrary goal. It also leads to kids being unable to construct their own world or deal with people outside of institutionalized "rules", and lacking in imagination or individuality. I can see it already in younger generations. When I was a kid, I just wandered around and did whatever I wanted. Of course, I was a poor city kid rather than a papmpered suburban kid (as are most of my collegues). Maybe that's why I can't stand cubicle life today.

  3. I've got a story for you. I never, thank heaven, inhabited a cubicle. At the science museum where I spent some creative and frustrating years, my assistant and I quickly outgrew the improvised office/storage/repair shop off the museum floor. We were in an urban multi-use building (us, food court, state offices, retail)downtown; it had some unused space on the first level by a little-used entrance originally intended to be a professional office, but never rented. We simply moved into it. Built walls and installed doors (scrounged off the loading dock), and had exactly what we needed far away from meddling non-profit coworkers. Got huge piles of Defense Dept. surplus metal shelving from a board member's distributing company and organized the many parts and supplies, with a clean room off to the side for electronic repairs.
    It outraged the incoming director. When we were rated by the Institute for Museum Studies (like an informal audit), they went nuts over our wonderful stolen facility. You know, sometimes you really can stick it to the man.

  4. It sounds like you were on the cutting edge of the maker movement! But seriously, it's amazing the contrast between Americans today and Americans of yore. It's hard to believe there was a time when Americans were admired around the world as tough, hardy folk who "tamed the frontier" by improvisation, pluck and hard work. Now in the age of consumerism, the almost universal image of Americans is a fat, lazy, uninformed, and unintelligent slob devoid of critical thinking skills and a basic command of facts and history. In Europe they now tell "American" jokes about how stupid we are (kinda like blonde jokes). It wasn't always thus. What a sad slide.


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