Even though I was born and raised in the massive city of São Paulo, some of my best childhood memories happened outside, knee-deep in tall grass in the wetlands of Pantanal and ready for adventure (albeit terrified of snakes). Even in the city, time was spent in our backyards, where my cousins and I spent hours inventing games, using our imaginations, and weaving threads of nature-filled memories into the whole cloth of our childhoods. Sunshine, fresh air, and broad-leafed trees compelled us to explore every day, learning how the world worked along the way.
But the experience of growing up has changed dramatically over the past decade. For many children in the Digital Age, childhood has become less about catching insects and making mud pies and more about television and tablets. Children today spend unprecedented amounts of time indoors, and the consequences aren’t good.
Fortunately, it’s never too late to incorporate more “Vitamin N” back into our kids’ lives. Here’s why our kids need nature and some effective ways to support their exploration of it.
Richard Louv, co-founder and chairman emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, argues that the shift indoors has resulted in an epidemic of “nature-deficit disorder.” A growing body of research supports this claim suggesting that taking nature out of childhood can lead to a wide variety of health and mental wellness issues.
Children who don’t spend enough time in nature experience:
- Attention difficulties
- Diminished use of their senses
- Higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses
- Increased rates of myopia
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Child and adult obesity
Nature-deficit disorder is also paving the road for a generation of children who feel disconnected from the environment. The repercussions of raising nature-alienated adults could prove catastrophic for our planet. But we don’t have to let this happen.
5 Ways to Get Kids Outside and Keep Them There
Let’s start reversing the effects of nature-deficit disorder now. Here are some easy ways to cultivate a love of the outdoors in your kids and get them outside every day.
1. Give Your Kids Permission to Get Dirty
Some kids are afraid to go outside because they know they’ll get dirty. They fear getting scolded for messing up their hair, shoes, or clothes. The next time you tell your kids to go outside, give them instructions to get messy, wet, and dirty. The experience will prove liberating for them as they dive into adventurous play.
2. Start an Outdoor Family Tradition
Whether it’s a nature hike, trip to a fishing pond, or stargazing adventure, create a new family tradition around nature. Other options include morning walks, excursions to collect seashells, geocaching, or even lighting candles along a walkway. Whatever it is, find ways to combine time in nature with time spent with family.
3. Consider a Digital Detox
Electronic devices disrupt family life. They negatively impact children’s attention spans, and they breed a stressful environment. Now that you’re committed to creating healthy new habits that include lots of Vitamin N, it’s also time to nix bad habits. The best way to do this? A digital detox. Removing the temptation of electronics will motivate your kids to get back to nature.
4. Cultivate Mindfulness
When kids (and adults) use electronic devices, it’s the equivalent of putting blinders on their senses. As they focus on the tiny screen in front of their eyes, they train themselves to block out the rest of the world. Fortunately, you can reverse this “training” through a nature-based mindfulness practice. Encourage your little ones to listen for bird calls and frog croaks, taste the air, touch tree bark and plant leaves, and become fully immersed in the sensations of nature.
5. Bring Nature Inside
Make your interior more nature-friendly, too. Consider bringing plants into your home and encourage your kids to help care for them. Keep field guides and picture books on hand that teach your kids about nature and help them get revved up for the next adventure.
Children Need Nature and Nature Needs Children
Rewilding our children and helping them develop a passionate love of nature comes with countless benefits. Research shows that kids who play outside build confidence. They develop greater focus, and they also gain the ability to calm themselves. Nature also represents a powerful antidote for diagnosed medical conditions such as attention-deficit disorder.
Children need nature. And nature also needs children. As our planet faces increasing environmental pressures, it will be up to future generations to address them. Fixing these problems must come from a nature-centered perspective motivated by a deep, abiding affection for the Earth.
At Our Whole Village, we create tours carefully designed for families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its peoples, and cultures. Contact us today to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we handcraft for families just like yours.