In the book entitled Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficient Disorder by Richard Louv, the author makes the point that our society is exerting a force that is moving children away from direct contact with nature and the outdoors. Cultural attitudes and many institutions in society are linking nature to crime and violence. They are making nature seem scary to children and in another sense, unproductive. Parents are worried about their kids being injured if they are outdoors. Our society is becoming more sedentary. According to Louv, “the American experience of nature has gone from direct utilitarianism to romantic attachment and now to electronic attachment” (p. 16).
Louv raises questions such as why do so many parents want their children to watch less television, yet continue to increase their opportunities to watch it. Children know about global threats to the environment, yet their relationship with nature is fading. When the term “camp” comes up, it is now computer camp or weight loss camp that is emphasized. As children spend less time outdoors and in nature, their physiologically and psychologically senses shrink.
In earlier times, children had greater access to the world which included vacant lots, parks in the inner city, streets, sidewalks, alleys, suburban yards, the countryside, forests, and streams. At present, many neighborhoods, houses, and apartment complexes have no outdoor play spaces (White and Stoecklin, n.d.).
There are real dangers potential dangers of not making the time to provide outdoor play for their children. Some of these include children: not sitting still and paying attention, exhibiting attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), being out of shape and becoming ill, being obese, not receiving enough Vitamin D, exhibiting aggressive behavior, developing myopia, being overly emotional and anxious, having a fear of the outdoors, not enjoying playing, lack of gross and fine motor coordination, having poor proprioceptive sense, being susceptible to injuries, and being clumsy and falling (Hanscom, 2016).
There are statistics with regard to children having or not having the opportunity for outdoor play. Some of these include “odds of children going outside being: higher for boys, those with three or more playmates, those with mothers of white ethnicity, and those whose parents exercise more than four times per week” (Baral and Moore, 2012). Perhaps surprisingly, there was not statistical significance attributed “to time spent watching television, household income, mother’s marital status, or parent’s perception of neighborhood safety” (Baral and Moore). It was noted that “mothers took their children outside to play more often than their fathers—44 percent to 24 percent” (Baral and Moore). Due to these observations, “efforts to increase outdoor play should target preschool-aged girls who are non-white and are in childcare programs.” (Baral and Moore).
There are more reasons why outdoor play has been curtailed in the current era. These include: working families not being able to supervise their children resulting in latchkey kids staying indoors, parents being afraid for the safety of their children, children’s lives being scheduled by adults, and lack of quality outdoor spaces being kept up very possibly caused by budgets being slashed (White and Stoecklin, n.d.).
“Childhood play has been designated a ‘right of every child’ by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights” (Baral and Moore, 2012). There is evidence that our physical, mental, and spiritual health is positively affected by our being outside and in nature. It is actually as important to us as adequate sleep and good nutrition. Outdoor play gives children the opportunity for a changing environment, and equally important, an opportunity to move.
When children are outdoors in nature, they will develop their gross and fine mother strength and coordination. Their very senses will improve. These senses include touch, sight, listening, taste, smell, proprioception (informs you where your body parts are without you having to see them), and vestibular sense (a sense of spatial orientation and balance for the purpose of coordinating movement with balance) (Hanscom, 2016). Being outside is also important for the child in their development of autonomy and independence. It gives them the chance to experiment with being farther away from their parents or caretaker (White and Stoecklin, n.d.).
Other benefits include “increased Vitamin D, improved distance vision, exposure to nature and green environments, and promotion of physical activity, sensory integration and cognition, optimal levels of arousal in the nervous system, stimulation of growth and development of brain nervous tissues, increased recall of information, ability to problem solve, and clearer thought processes” (Baral and Moore, 2012).
Outdoor play should always be “pleasurable, imaginative, self-motivated, spontaneous, active, non-goal directed, and free of adult-imposed rules. It will mention that quality play involves the whole child”: emotions, intellect, individual growth, social interaction, and gross and fine motor senses. (White and Stoecklin, n.d.). Two disciplines, “eco-psychology and evolutionary psychology suggest that humans are genetically programmed by evolution with an affinity for the natural outdoors” (White and Stoecklin). Biophilia is the biologically-based need to affiliate with nature and other living organisms. Adults usually see nature as a backdrop for whatever is going on. For a child though, it is a “stimulator and experiential component of their activities.” (White and Stoecklin).
It is noticeable that children are attracted to fairy tales set in natural settings with animals and to zoos and aquariums. “Children have greater freedom playing outdoors to run and shout, interact with and manipulate the environment, and freer to do ‘messy’ activities.” (White and Stoecklin). If children designed these outdoor spaces, the would want them to be fully naturalized with plants, trees, flowers, water, dirt, sand, mud, animals, and insects—a wide variety of play opportunities of every imaginable type. Parents will be made aware of a recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatric Practitioners that a “large portion of the play be child-driven rather than adult-directed” (Baral and Moore, 2012).
The article “What is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Behavior and Health in Children? A Systematic Review” by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health identified all studies that examined the relationship between what was termed “risky outdoor play” and health in children. Interestingly, it was found that “play where children can disappear/get lost and risky play supportive environments were positively associated with physical activity and social health, and negatively associated with sedentary behavior. Engaging in rough and tumble play did not increase aggression, and was associated with increased social competence for boys and popular children, however, results were mixed for other children” (Tchounwou, 2015).
Baral N. & Moore, J. (2012, July). Half of Preschoolers Do Not Go Outside to Play Daily. Natural Medicine Journal, Volume 4, Issue 7. Para. 4, 6, 7, 8. Retrieved from: www.nationalmedicaljournal.com/hournal/2012-07/half-preschoolers-do-not-go-outside-play-daily
Hanscom, A.J. (2016). Balanced and Barefoot: How Unrestricted Outdoor Play Makes for Strong, Confident, and Capable Children. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Louv, R. (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficient Disorder. (2nd ed., pp. 1, 3, 16). Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Tchounwou, P.B. (Academic Editor). (2015, June). What is the Relationship between Risky Outdoor Play and Health in Children? A Systematic Review. International Journal of Environmental Research, V(12(6). para. 61. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nim.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4483710/
USCA Forest Service. (n.d.) Education Theme – Kids in the Woods. para 1
White, R. & Stoecklin, V. (n.d.). Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environments: Returning to Nature. White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group. Para. 1, 5, 11, 18 Retrieved from: http://www.whitehutchinson.com/children/articles/outdoor.shtml
Originally published on https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/children-nature-steve-king/
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