Mud between your toes: Reaping nature’s benefits
Elizabeth Reinsch, PhD,
Human Development Specialist
Richard Louv’s latest book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, raises concerns about the increasing amount of time children spend indoors, away from nature. It caused me to reflect on my own childhood and the enormous amount of time I, my sisters, along with neighbor kids and friends, spent in the woods below the home where I grew up.
We played for hours down at the creek or hiking up to “Big Rock,” on a bluff that overlooked the small town where I grew up. The freedom I experienced at such a tender age of 5 and throughout my teen years was developed in a woods filled with rabbits, squirrels, birds, butterflies, bees and turtles. The creek meandered for miles at the bottom of the hill, where slippery rocks and pools of water provided small fish, dragonflies and snakes to observe, fantasize and pretend, setting the stage for hours of play.
That was a few years ago, back in the 1950s, during a time that offered freedoms our kids today will never know--unless we do something about it. Louv’s book provides research that shows how important nature is to all of us, adults as well as kids. He makes the case for nature being essential for physical and emotional health. He also cites research suggesting that exposure to nature may reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
“Nature-deficit disorder,” according to Louv, “describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.”
Researchers studying the phenomenon of the “de-naturing” of childhood show reduced amount of leisure time experienced in families today. They find people spending more time in front of the TV or computer, playing video games or Wii. Not only is obesity growing among children and adults, but research says the best predictor of preschool children’s physical activity is simply being outdoors. Another research study found the average 8-year-old could better identify characters on the Japanese trading card game Pokémon than native plants and species in his/her own back yard and community.
So how do we change this condition? Here are a few suggestions to get started.
time to be outdoors.
Encourage your children to turn off the television and computer and go outside for awhile—and do the same yourself.
2. Be mindful and observant of what is happening around you. Don’t just go to the park (which is better than not), but try to find a field or open land area. Spend time categorizing the different insects and animals you can find. When was the last time you turned on a porch light and looked at the bugs flying around? Have you ever walked in the mud after a rain and felt the squishy mud push through your toes? Try it again this time with your child.
for patterns to see your
environment in a new way. Take a winter walk and look closely at ice crystals you find in nature. In early summer try catching fireflies in a jar. Watch their lights turn on and off. On a warm summer night go out in the back yard, lie on the ground and look at the stars. Really get to know one open area to see what’s present at different times of year.
4. Talk to your children about your own experiences with nature. Encourage them to talk to you. Build memories and enjoy each other’s company.
Louv, Richard. (2008).
Last Child in the Woods: Saving
Our Children from Nature-Deficit
Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin.