“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive and even spiritual satisfaction.”
You most likely have seen a small bit of what I’m about to talk about. Children at the park on tablets, people walking to and fro with their fingers buzzing against a screen, or a crowd lit up at an outdoor concert by phones, instead of lighters. We as a species are constantly “plugged in” to this technological upheaval of what was once the only thing we knew. Nature; the great outdoors. Be it in an office all day, binge watching your favorite fictional drama, or gaming our thumbs away, it’s not hard to see where we are. Outside of ourselves.
In 2005, author Richard Louv introduced a term for this occurrence; Nature Deficit Disorder. A term that quite blatantly states that someone is alienated from nature. This, by the way, is not meant to be a medical diagnosis, just a simplistic way to describe where the world is headed. But this “Disorder” is majorly affecting children. Louv argues, that children today are spending so much time indoors that they have lost their connection to the natural world. This is due to so much time being spent in front of a television, and when they ARE outside they are more than likely on their way to some sort of sports practice or organized outdoor activity.
If you visualize the 1.6 million-year period of human development as a single 24-hour day, people stopped hunting and gathering only about nine minutes ago. For the other 23 hours, 51 minutes of our “day” of human evolution, our basic neurological processes have developed in a hunting-gathering context within nature. And only about 300 years ago during the industrial revolution did people start spending most of their time indoors. During the overwhelming majority of human history our neural capacities and response patterns have been conditioned in response to spending our childhoods in nature, but suddenly we find ourselves cut off from the natural context with which we are so deeply familiar.
This move indoors for children has been caused by many gratuitous factors; industrialization, urbanization, population increase, the decrease in open spaces and even fear. Fear of “Stranger Danger” and parental fear of litigation. Social changes have further exacerbated this shift as well, as fewer children are walking or riding their bicycles to school. Instead, children are shuttled everywhere. Games outside replaced with the latest online Xbox installment or climbing trees supplanted by You-Tube personality.
The negative consequences of this disconnect with nature during latter years are many and serious. Psychologists and Therapists believe that play in nature, particularly during middle childhood, is a critically important time for developing capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional/intellectual development. A child confronts in nature a diverse invigorating stream of objects and subjects invaluable to development. Especially for the development of labeling and identifying. It’s no wonder than even in modern classrooms children are taught to associate, sort, and classify educational materials that are associated with animals, plants, foods, and other features of nature. These objects are historically what children have always classified first, and what are burned into the neural pathways of humans for generations.
Because of this, researchers suspect we will be seeing an even larger jump in mental health afflictions that have already been on an exponential rise. Disorders such as ADD, ADHD, Depression, and even Biophobia (the fear and avoidance of nature). Decreased ability to cope with stress, and decreased self-esteem and even lower standardized test scores. Not to mention increased “Videophilia”, the new human tendency to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media, or decreased interest in and care for the environment for coming generations. This problem would undoubtedly get worse if we do not make a move now. A move to fight back these institutions we are implanting either purposefully or out of social normalities. Children need a healthy development in early years, to ensure a healthy adult life. This is an objective truth, which we need to preserve and keep present even in changing social constructs and progressions.
Outdoor play in a completely natural setting integrates informal play with formal learning and stimulates all the senses. Growing children explore, observe, and create games based on these perceptions. This has always been a critical aspect of a child’s upbringing, and now it is being thrown to the wayside and forgotten. But it can be simply fought. By informed adults and parents, who can turn the tides of this new disheartening epidemic. Simply allow children to play in nature, as they always have, for themselves and their future selves.