Eco-Healing: Nature’s Importance to Children
Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv’s book, is stimulating a national debate on the role of nature in children’s lives. As Louv suggested in his presentation at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, today’s children suffer from nature-deficit disorder. They are often raised to be ‘afraid’ or cautious of the outdoors. Parents suggest that it is dirty, dangerous, or, Louv states, “that nature is in the past; the future is in electronics.” True enough, these same children spend a huge amount of time on the internet, with cell phones, playing video games, watching TV, or mesmerized by other electronic gadgetry.
Beyond exercise, why is nature important to children?
“We need to give our children Vitamin N where N stands for nature,” Louv implores us. His implications are clear. Our nation feeds our children high calorie, low nutrient fast food and then asks them to sit on the couch or at a desk with their eyes glued to a screen. Considering these facts, it is no wonder that childhood obesity is on the rise. The human body is designed to move; movement is becoming obsolete along with being in nature.
As an investigative journalist, Richard Louv compiled a lot of research data to make his case for nature-deficit disorder. Many of the research results are startling. For example, would you guess that early experiences in nature are positively linked with the development of imagination? (Louv, 2001, Fjortoft 2000. Other research indicated that exposure to nature improves children’s cognitive abilities as it enhances their observations skills, awareness, and reasoning.(Pyle, 2002)
Behavioral changes have also been recorded. Children who play outside in nature with others are much less likely to engage in bullying, demonstrate respect for each other, and develop collaborative skills. (Malone & Tranter, 2003; Moore, 1996; Fjortoft, 2000)
Improvements shows up indoors, too. Children who spend time in nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. (Taylor, 2002) They also report a greater sense of awe and wonder which according to Harvard’s E.O. Wilson are motivating factors in life long learning. (Wilson, 1997)
Nature is therapeutic. Doing simple things like walking, playing, or exploring nature can reduce or sometimes even eliminate the need for drugs in children who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.) University of Illinois/Urbana researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances Kuo have conducted a series of studies on the role of nature in relief of ADHD. In one study, they compared the concentration ability of three groups of children diagnosed with ADHD. Each group took three 20 minute walks, one in a green park and the other two walks in a downtown or residential area with less green. All the groups were tested for concentration immediately after their walks by researchers blind to which walk the children had taken.
What Can You Do To Help Children?
Your child does and all children do not have to suffer from ADHD to benefit from exposure to nature. Often parents, grandparents, and other family members imagine that children only benefit if they are taken on camping trips or hiking.
Research shows that, while these things are wonderful, they are not necessary. Taking children to a local green park, for a walk in nature, or encouraging them to garden with you, or explore backyard insects can all provide them with physical, psychological, and spiritual nourishment. One can imagine how even placing a nature photo, a plant, or a small living thing like a turtle or fish in their rooms enhances their imagination and sense of aliveness. The importance of nature images and/or views has been established and had an influence on modern hospital design for 30 years. (Ulrich, 1984)
As research mounted throughout the 1990s on the important role nature plays in children’s physical, mental, and spiritual development, educators and schoolyard architects began to explore greening school playgrounds. In 2001 the book, Greening School Grounds: Creating Habitat for Learning, was published in the United States inspiring the country to follow the leadership of Britain, Canada, Australia, and Sweden who were already investing in green school grounds. These schoolyards include features such as vegetable and flower gardens, butterfly gardens, small water features, unstructured shrubs, trees, and grassy areas. Planners realize that, eventually, these green areas will be populated by birds, insects, and small ground creatures whose presence will provide children with multiple levels of nature experiences every day.
If you wish to help green the coming generation and support their caring for the environment, you can do three simple things:
A demonstrated by-product of these efforts is that children, and all people, who experience an intimate relationship with nature become good stewards of nature. Children are key to the Earth’s future health for good or for ill.
Learn More About What Nature Offers All of Us
Finally, a nature advocate for years, Richard Louv’s most recent book, The Nature Principle, explores the important role nature plays in adult health and wellbeing.
He also explores exciting applications to societal problems, e.g. how green roofs benefit poverty struck areas of our cities, how the greening of neighborhoods builds community, and how nature exposure contributes to environmental responsibility and healthier human beings
Fjortoft, I. and Sagele, J., “The Natural Environment as Playground for Children,”(2000) Landscape and Urban Planning 48 (1/2) 83-97