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Nature Deficit Disorder: Enhancing Your Child

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Author: Dr. Lisa Doran, ND Ajax, ON

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Nature Deficit Disorder: Enhancing Your Child’s Time with Nature

I have a very funny story to share with you to begin this discussion. My kids study violin at the conservatory, with a lovely teacher who we've been with for years, and who I enjoy very much because she is very British and rather straightlaced but also very quirky, the endearing way only the British can do. This week we were wrapping up our lessons for the summer and our teacher asked us what we were doing for our holidays and I vaguely mentioned visiting grandmas and maybe some camping. She exhorted me to be sure the children practiced each and every day of the summer so they would maintain their skills and then she related to me the story of another one of her students
—how the parents were teachers and how on the last day of school they would just take off for the summer up north to their cottage. Our teacher continued on, utterly horrified, that these children were simply allowed to run around wild in the bush all summer, not made to practice or read or study in any form. I didn't tell her that sounded like heaven to me.

I have to confess openly that my children, too, turn into wild children in the summer. We try to spend as much time as is possible at grandmas house, on the beach, in the water, in the canoe or in a tent. It's wonderful. The children come in tired and happy every night. They eat healthy dinners, they sleep well and they wake up early to do it all again. We don't have a tv or computer while camping or at grandmas. We are media free.

I've noticed that the children change during summers spent like this. They unfold and relax, they use their imaginations more, they talk more, dream more, play more. They fight less, resolve their conflicts better and are kinder to one another. The outside is good for our kids and they don't get enough of it.

In today's world where we need to be vigilant as parents to keep our kids safe, where children are not granted the freedom I was granted at nine years old, our kids are not getting to experience the outdoors and participate in activities that assist their growth and development. If our kids are outdoors, it's most usually at a public park or play structure, where the grass is mowed, the surfaces are relatively even and the environment is predictable.

There is some interesting writing happening today about what is being coined "Nature Deficiency Disorder" by many child development authors. These authors theorize that when our kids don't get the time in nature that for eons children have had access to, they are missing something crucial in their development that is impossible to obtain by the types of media that are replacing outdoor play activities such as television, computer and handheld gaming consoles. They are missing that three dimensional sensory experience that is simply not available indoors.

The natural world is fascinating to children. Bugs, birds, snakes, little animals. The stars, even the weather and how things change and grow so rapidly from season to season is fascinating to children. The world changes with the first snowfall. All of the experiences in nature are of a sensory type and therefore are very helpful in the rapidly developing neurological systems of our children. The hiking path is uneven and requires balance and attention and appropriate motor planning. The bird flies overhead and our eyes and ears need to be able to track it flying overhead. The sand is gritty, the mud is mooshy, the wind is cold. Rolling down the tobogganing hill stimulates the vestibular apparatus and assists the development of balance and the ability to sit still in a seat in a classroom. Jumping, lifting, running, all stimulate the proprioceptive neurons in the large joints and allow the child to learn important skills like planning how to complete complex movements. Fitness is encouraged with outdoor activities as simple as walking. Not only are these aspects important to the children in terms of brain development and fitness, but the establishment of a relationship and comfort with the outdoors is important as well. The outdoors is a key aspect of any stress management program, for adults as well as children. Modelling for our children today that when we are tired and stressed and the world seems overwhelming we go for a walk or sit under a favourite tree is a wonderful lesson. You will soon find your own teenagers, frustrated with something that happened at school declare "I need to go for a walk", and when they return they are calmer and more centered.

I encourage you to get outside with your kids. Get into the wild with your kids - let them be wild kids, bush babies this summer. Watch their reaction and note the reaction you have within yourself to spending more time outside. Plan to go on an adventure exploring at least once a week. I would love to invite all of you to send me an email and let me know your favourite places to get outside. I'll post them and let you all read the responses next month - it might give you some good ideas for planning family summer time adventures.

For more information and ideas I recommend the book ""Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder" by Richard Louv

Here are more links to recent articles about Nature Deficit Disorder

Radio Interview with Richard Louv

Pittsburg Post Gazaette Article

Tree Hugger Article about NDD

For more information about Dr. Lisa Doran ND please visit:

20 Holly Street, Suite 200, Toronto, ON M4S 3B1
Tel: (416) 496-8633   Toll Free: 1-800-551-4381