written by David Reeves
This relationship is strained in the environment of modern life. We’ve grown together yet we’ve grown apart from nature. Our urban and suburban lifestyles do not always give us access to quality natural experiences. This is particularly true for children, who often do not have the capacity to reach natural places on their own.
Recent research on the needs of children relative to nature has shown that the outdoors may contribute to the good health of children.
For example, the American Society of Landscape Architects gathered a library of professional research on the subject of nature’s value in health benefits to adults and children. The research covers a diverse set of topics, including treatment of general health, ADD/ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, cognition, depression, obesity, stress, type II diabetes and other emotional and physical aspects of childhood.
There is even a phrase to describe a lack of contact with nature: Nature Deficit Disorder is a state where children are increasingly disconnected from the natural environment. The effects include potential links to ADD and ADHD, difficulties in concentration and less creativity. Isolating children from this natural source of stimulation and replacing it with virtual imitation can result in a child who has less foundation in reality.
It is interesting how many games for children, such as Pokemon, imitate the diversity of the natural world but in a fantastical, corrupted form that focuses on the acquisitive rather than the experiential.
The reason children’s movies with animals are so popular, along with nature programs on television, is that people can feel close to nature without actually going there. The challenge in introducing children to nature is that it often takes planning and commitment. Parents can easily become frustrated and give up trying if initial attempts to provide outdoor experiences fail.
The trick to helping children enjoy nature is to not set expectations so high that you can’t meet them as a parent or family. One doesn’t have to reach deep into the wilderness to enjoy natural experiences. Even watching a waterfall over a ledge at a city fountain is a natural experience worth creating for a child.
Think in terms of letting your children find and discover what interests them. It may not be the height of natural experiences at first, but after a few visits to a local pond, the place may become familiar enough for children to naturally explore their world. Encourage them to look at things you might find such as a colorful or interesting-shaped leaf. Let them bring home some natural objects such as pinecones or rocks or even a stick with lichens on it.
Of course, it is not always legal to take material out of parks in order to protect certain natural environments, so bring along a digital camera or a phone and let your child take pictures of the natural world. Viewing your experiences at home on a computer screen can bring nature into focus for your child. Next time you head out into the park, your children will seek out their own vision of what nature holds. That is where the connection begins.
One of the best ways to help children connect with nature is to facilitate spontaneous play that is not planned in detail or organized by adults. A research paper published at Taylor and Francis Online documents the changes in children’s nature-based experiences near home, from previous generations to the current one.
Access to nature and unstructured exploration can have profound effects on self-identity from an early age. There is a general acknowledgment that kids don’t have the same amount of freedom as youth of a generation ago. The social reasons for this are many, including parental fears that unsupervised children are not safe in parks or natural areas. The urbanization and suburbanization of society has also created some isolation from nature.
Yet the benefits of nature for children are worth protecting and worth pursuing. It can start simple and still provide a lifetime of rewards in mental and physical health.
About the author:
David Reeves is Marketing Manager of Playland Inc. in Carrollton, GA. Playland Inc., is a total solutions manufacturer and supplier to many industries, with its roots deep in the park and playground markets including churches, schools, and day care centers. It has developed into the only company in its field to offer direct to all of its customers, the ability to purchase outdoor playgrounds, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities. Connect with SRP on LinkedIn or Facebook.