Internationally-known author Richard Louv (loov) is in Springfield today to talk with educators and the general public about nature deficit disorder, something he describes in his book Last Child in the Woods. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky caught up with Louv and has this story.
It was a beautiful fall morning at the Watershed Center at Valley Water Mill, and the 5th graders from the Springfield Public Schools’ new WOLF program were enjoying being outdoors. They were there to explore and to learn but they made a stop at the lakeside learning station to meet Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.
These kids are the exception to the rule anymore, according to Louv. He says 40% of school districts nationwide have either reduced or completely eliminated recess. There are several reasons, he says, why our children aren’t getting outdoors as much as they used to. He points to parents’ fear of strangers and of nature itself.
"Increasingly, young parents didn't have much experience in nature when they were growing up. The irony is, when you look at the statistics on stranger danger, stranger abductions, for instance, there's relatively few, and the vast majority of abductions are by parents, family members or somebody the family knows, and yet we feel this growing sense of fear."According to Louv, that fear isn’t going to go away, so it’s up to parents, grandparents and schools to make sure kids get to spend time in nature.
Nature Deficit Disorder, while not a real medical term, is a real condition in Louv’s eyes. He says not just kids, but entire communities can be diagnosed with it.
"It is a society that has somehow lost the connection to nature or is in the process of losing it. Cultures lose their memories sometimes. How many generations will go by, and I don't think it will be very many if we're not careful, before our culture loses its memory of a time when it was considered normal and expected for kids to go out and play in the woods and fields."The decline in the amount of time kids spend outdoors, Louv says, has led to an increase in obesity and diabetes in children and even overmedication for things like ADHD. He says when he was young, the woods were his Ritalin. He believes conditions like ADHD can be helped thru giving kids unstructured time to play outside."Kids with Attention Deficit Disorder, the symptoms get better much more quickly with just a little bit of contact with nature--University of Illinois, ongoing set of studies."
One thing standing in the way of kids being able to have unstructured time outdoors, Louv says, are subdivisions with their restrictions on what homeowners can do with their properties.
"Just try to put a basketball hoop up in some of these communities, let alone let the kids build a fort or a tree house, it's not going to happen. One woman told me her community her community association recently outlawed chalk drawing on the sidewalks."He says restrictions like those along with fears that their parents have, drive kids indoors.
"Culture's basically telling them that nature's in the past,probably doesn't count anymore. The boogie man lives in the woods, thefuture's in electronics, and playing outdoors is possibly illegal.That's the message that's getting through to too manykids."Richard Louv encourages families to create nature clubs with other families and spend time together hiking or just playing at the park. He says the way parents respond to nature has a huge impact on children’s attitudes towards it."Rachel Carson had a great quote that I quote in the book, which is, 'when introducing children to nature, it's not so important what you know as it is how you feel,' that your enthusiasm as a parent or a grandparent as an adult about nature counts more than whether you can name every plant."
Louv praised the Springfield-Greene County Parks and the Springfield Public School Districct for providing plenty of opportunities for children to play outdoors. Louv will speak tonight (10/7) at 6 at the Springfield Expo Center. For more information, call the Springfield/Greene County Parks Office at 864-1049.