Saving our Kids from Nature Deficit Disorder

Sports leagues are great for kids when it comes to developing fitness, but there is a growing school of thought that asks the question "is that all there is?"  Physical well-being is certainly improved through typical sports programs but kids also need more nature, as well as exposure to lifelong activities.  Author Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder has provided an impetus for a movement that seeks to get kids back in touch with nature.  "Nature Deficit Disorder" is the term that he has given to the disconnection between today's children and the great outdoors.  Some states have launched initiatives to get kids outside, which are flourishing despite the failure of federal No Child Left Inside Act legislation in 2011.  Louv and many others believe that the absence of nature in children's lives is related to increasing stress levels, childhood obesity, depression and stress.  From 1977 to 2003 there was a 50% drop in children who participated in outdoor activities.  At the same time there are studies that show that nature can reduce stress, help children focus, and promote kids' emotional and social development.  And let's hear it for just plain fun, which comes in droves from outdoor play and adventure.


Here are some of our tips (all of them tried out successfully on our own children) for helping your kids to overcome NDD, and joyfully connect with nature:

  • Slow down the forced march, smell the roses (or find the bugs under the rocks) and share kids’ wonder.

  • Have scadventure hunts:  make a list of things you'd like the kids to find in the woods, or have them develop their own lists.

  • Go on walkie talkie walks:  take walkie talkies with you to the woods.  These are a guaranteed hit with kids.

  • Encourage kids to draw pictures and keep a journal of their outdoor adventures.

  • Bring home treasures (e.g., pine cones, shells) if allowed.

  • Combine outings with a destination that the whole family will like (museum; playground; café).

  • Play games (hide and seek in teams-- never let kids hide alone; find the blazes).

  • Bring food and treats; surprise them.

  • Let older kids bring along friends.

  • Teach kids to use map and compass.

  • Invite another family along.

  • Plan some separate adventures for teens.

  • Develop an adventure passport.

  • Time it right for young children with regard to meal times and naps.

  • Let little ones nap on your back or in your bike trailer.

  • Go sightseeing by bicycle.

  • Sing songs and take along a songbook.

  • Put the slowest hiker, skier, etc. in the lead

  • Use extra caution and be willing to turn around.

  • Get a bug inspection kit.

  • Buy children’s binoculars.

  • Get kids their own daypacks.

  • Set aside a family fun day and alternate travel sport team seasons with family fun days/weekends.

  • Start when you kids are infants: don't wait until they are "old enough". You can transition their gear accordingly:  e.g., bike trailer to trail-a-bike to bike.

  • Start a family outing club.

  • Get the kids disposable cameras to record their adventures.

  • Encourage your children's school or local outing club to start a Kids' Outdoor Adventure Club. If sponsored by your school there are numerous opportunities to integrate the activities in a fun way into curriculum (e.g., science, teambuilding/human relations, history, math).

Here are some resources for helping you to get your kids outdoors: