Nature Deficit Disorder

Only in nature and the outdoors do they encounter all four non-negotiable sources for their development: freedom, immediacy, resistance and relatedness (connection).

One of the biggest challenges of our time in my opinion is the dis-connect many of us and our children are experiencing and growing up with. As touched on in another blog entry children, teenagers (and adults) spent too much time in a virtual reality. From too young an age children become aware of frightening and overwhelming global occurrences such as natural disasters and the severe environmental threats to our planet.

In stark contrast to the exposure to this information children don’t have enough first-hand experiences with the natural habitats that surround them. Nature and the outdoors give us invaluable opportunities to re-connect, to experience what we’re all part of first hand, and to feel ourselves as an important piece of this jigsaw that is our planet. Children need to learn that everything on this earth is connected, that we can influence our surrounds and that we are affected by them in return. We get the feeling that we “belong” here.

On a more basic and child centred level: Children should get the opportunity to get messy, to explore nature, to fuel their imagination with the endless opportunities of the outdoors. Too often have I encountered teachers and parents in the past that said: We can’t go outside today it’s too cold, or too wet! If we waited for sunny and warm days in Ireland for children to get the chance to spend time outside we’d be in big trouble! There is brilliant and affordable outdoor attire available from stores like Lidl or Aldi; there is a reason why wellies were invented!

When dressed appropriately children can play outside despite rain or cold temperatures. In Scandinavia it is common use to wrap up babies and toddlers, and leave them outside in sub-zero temperatures for their midday naps. According to research by  Marjo Tourula of the University of Oulu, Finland for example, napping in sub-zero temperatures not only promotes better daytime sleeping, it also seems to increase the duration of sleep. It’s also believed that the fresh clean air promotes health and combats winter sickness. Even if we don’t go as far as this, it’s just an example that children are safe outdoors when dressed appropriately, even in the rain or snow.

Children love being and playing outside, the messier the better. There is nothing more exciting than wading through water, climbing trees, having picnics in the forest, building dens and tree houses, collecting pebbles and seashells at the beach or building igloos in the snow. We need to be able to afford our children these basic experiences for their own health and happiness. There is no place like nature to let children’s imagination run wild – literally!

Alex Koster is a mum, teacher, mindfulness practitioner and author/blogger. Originally from Germany, she has also lived and worked in Co. Tipperary/Ireland since 2000. She is married and has two beautiful daughters aged 4 and 6. She has always had a great interest in education that goes beyond just traditional academia and strongly believes that children learn best through play-based approaches combined with outdoor/nature experiences. You’ll find her at her website Roots and Wings, and find her new book on Amazon

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