Reading Louv’s Last Child in the Woods had a profound effect o me. His idea of a self-coined “nature deficit disorder”, while not recognized by any medical or psychological organization at this time, makes sense. I can honestly state that I agree with the theory that the rising number of cases of ADD and ADHD are, in part, because of the fact that children spend less time outdoors. They are not allowed the time to “work off” the physical and mental energy they accumulate each day. It makes sense to me that this pent-up energy would lead to the inability to be still or to concentrate.
Before anyone gets all up in arms over this statement, I do understand that this is not the ONLY contributing factor to ADD and/or ADHD in children. I also understand that there are some cases of ADD and/or ADHD that require medication.
When I was a kid, we lived in the suburbs that backed up to woods with a creek running through them. There was a house on the corner with a large pond in the front yard and three streets over were the woods that led down to the river. In the summer, we took picnic lunches to the woods and played on “Elephant Rock”, so named because it was “as big as an elephant.” We walked along the creek and followed it back to the pond, where we would watch the frogs and small fish swim. In the spring, we anxiously awaited the day the frog eggs would hatch and become tiny green frogs that invaded our yards. In the spring, there were a couple of times that our father brought home tadpoles and we put them in a child’s plastic swimming pool so that we could watch them grow legs and lose their tails, becoming a very different kind of frog. We caught lizards and learned that we could not pick them up by the tail; laughed at the squirrels playing in the trees; and listened to the cicada orchestras that swept from one treetop to the next.
Yes, we had skinned knees, sprained ankles, and sometimes worse. The youngest of the girls who lived next door was incredibly accident prone and if anyone was going to get hurt, it was her. Oddly enough, bandages and stitches never stopped us. Even when we were in trouble and not allowed to go on our excursions, we sat in the backyard, underneath the tree that was on the fence line between our houses, talking, running our Matchbox cars on roads that led through the fence, and attempting to dig a hole that would take us to China. Yes, our imaginations were vibrant – but we did not get in trouble for that!
According to Louv, there are three reasons that children suffer from “nature deficit disorder.” They include parental fears, lack of access to natural areas, and the “lure of the screen.” He goes further to state that the number one reason is parental fears. He does not suggest that parental fears are unreasonable. Child abductions and the subsequent physical and sexual assaults, along with child murder, are very fright-full ideas for parents. It is highly reasonable to believe that children cannot roam through the woods like we did when I was a child. However, it is not unreasonable to believe that parents could schedule their “quality time” with their children in the outdoors. A family picnic or hike in the local park when parents can spark their children’s imagination with interesting facts that lead to fantasy-filled stories of the creatures that live in the woods can be every bit as stimulating for a child as the opportunity to explore alone.
When my children were young, I would go with them to the river near our house. We went in the day time when we could watch how the river currents flow over the rocks, swirling into eddies and settling into pools near the shore. We walked together in the shallows so that they could feel how the currents changed and how even what appeared to be still water had a current below the surface. We talked about the creatures that lived in the water and along the creek banks and once followed a field mouse along its path of trails that led through the roots of the trees when the river waters were low. We would go to the Congaree National Swamp on Owl Prowls and we even went once when the river had flooded so they could see how the rising waters had forced all types of small animals from their usual homes and up onto the boardwalk in search of shelter. We would sit on my car hood at dusk and listen to the crickets as they tuned up for the insect orchestra and listen for the cicadas to join in, attempting to guess which treetop would chime in next. The car hood was also the perfect place to wait for a meteor shower. We took night-time excursions to the river, noticing how innocent tree stumps during the day could look like a shaggy wolf blocking our path at night. We watched the glow worms glowing in a blanket on the river bank, discovered swamp gas (or will-o-the-wisp) and listened for the fish (or were they?) to splash in the water.
Do remember, I am a single parent. During the time I did these things with my children, I worked in operations area of a bank, 40+ hours a week, supervised 40 individuals and numerous projects. I brought work home with me at times. I found out that in scheduling these times with my children, not only did I spark their imaginations and help them develop their creativity (and a love for nature), but I also gave myself valuable time to de-stress. Nature is a soothing and effective healer for a myriad of ailments for young and old.
Which brings us to the lack of easy access to natural areas for exploration and next week’s article.