What is Nature Deficit Disorder and Tips on Preventing it

August 9, 2013 Published by

The term ‘nature deficit disorder‘ (NDD) is not a recognised scientific or medical disorder, but comes from writer Richard Louv, who believes that increasing numbers of children are spending less time outdoors and this is causing a range of health, behavioural and educational issues.

“Nature Deficit Disorder 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.” Last Child in the Woods (quoted in Natural Childhood Report)

Stephen Moss, former BBC Springwatch producer, wrote the Natural Childhood Report for the National Trust and believes that parents and schools need to change the way children grow up and see the world, and that locking them indoors in front of a screen is not helping matters. Parental anxiety, road traffic, pollution and the increase of electronic devices are factors that increase the risk of NDD.

Children need ‘risky’ play and the outdoors provides this. Health and Safety Executives believe that risk-taking in children’s lives is beneficial, but many children are prevented from playing conkers in the playground and climbing trees.  Children learn through a trial and error process, so exposure to ‘risky’ play can be beneficial.

“Climbing a tree – working out how to start, testing for strength, feeling how the breeze in your face also sways the branches underfoot, glimpsing the changing vista through the leaves, dreaming about being king or queen of the jungle, shouting to your friends below once you’ve got as high as you dare – is an immersive, 360-degree experience that virtual or indoor settings simply cannot compare with.” Tim Gill (quoted in Natural Childhood Report)


Why are the outdoors important?

Physical activity is a must for children, especially when child obesity is at a high. Felicia Huppert at the Well-being Institute at Cambridge University found that regular exercise not only burns calories, but exercise also prevents depression. Recent research has also shown that doctors are now prescribing exercise instead of drugs, to try and reduce the risk of obesity.

The outdoors helps children understand the environment, nature, habitats, seasons, plant cycles, their own limitations and capabilities. Outdoor play also enhances social development and cooperative play, when playing obstacle courses, or building a den in teams.

Here are some tips on how to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder:

  1. Be a role model – If you demonstrate your interest and respect for nature, through sitting in the garden/ gardening/ visiting garden centres/reading gardening magazines/recycling, children are more like to copy this behaviour and enjoy nature themselves.active play outside
  2. Have an outdoor adventure – Try and get outside; have a trip to a park/go for a walk/ go the local river and play pooh sticks, at least once a week, rain or shine.  This will not only get the kids excited about the outdoors and nature but it’s great for family quality time.  Warning: remember to dress appropriately for the weather, wellington boots may be needed!
  3. Limit TV and screen time – Only allow your child to have a couple of hours in front of a screen (including TVs, tablets, and computers) per day – this will encourage them to go out in the garden and be imaginative.
  4. Go for a family walk after dinner – Take your family on a nice stroll around the neighbourhood or the park and discuss what you see whilst walking.  This will ensure that children get some fresh air and allow them to let out any excess energy before they go to bed. A regular walk is good for family quality time too.
  5. Go camping – get some friends together, grab a sleeping bag, and go camping. Camping in national parks is cost-effective and you can be at one with nature. If you can’t go to a campsite you can always camp in the back garden, which is still as much fun (and if there’s a storm at least you can run back inside!).
  6. Grow your own vegetables/herb garden – Start a vegetable/herb garden and let your kids be in charge of looking after it. This will give them a responsibility but will also start a discussion about natural resources and the benefits of home-grown food. Warning: you will have to get your hands dirty!
  7. Sign up to a local or national environmental organisation – See how you can get involved and do your bit to save our environment. Get children involved by reading the magazines jointly, and ask them questions to get them thinking and encourage them to ask you questions too. Some examples of organisations include, Butterfly Conservation, English Heritage, The Woodland Trusts, Forestry Commission, Soil Association.boy-on-the-farm
  8. Buy nature books – Go to the charity shop and pick up some nature books for your child to read; this can help develop curiosity, as they will start to ask questions. Nature guides will teach children about foods, plants, animals and the environment in general. Children can also take a guide outside and use it to identify plants, trees, flowers, insects and birds.
  9. Go on a trip to a farm or zoo – treat your child to a trip to the zoo to see animals up close and discuss the importance of the conservation.
  10. Try not to worry too much about ‘stranger danger’ – try not to be in constant fear that your child’s welfare is in danger, and let them explore. If you feel happier monitoring your child then watch them in the garden, but let them explore and investigate by themselves.

“As a nation we need to do everything we can to make it easy and safe for our children to get outdoors. We want to move the debate on and encourage people and organisations to think about how we take practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world and inspire them to get outdoors.” Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust.

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This post was written by Dr Amanda Gummer

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