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Cures for Nature Deficit Disorder? Help for our Planet?

I am nearing in on the final few hours of a mostly beautiful fall long weekend. While visiting my parents for Canadian Thanksgiving, I woke up this morning thinking about the Sunday walks that we sometimes took with my dad. We would head out into the woods, exploring the inofficial trails, the apple trees along the way, the tall pine forests, the garter snakes, and even an occasional broken down old car or bicycle that must have been over 50 years old. I peered out at the houses of my childhood friends, 4 girls about my age that were all a stone's throw from my home. We used to spend countless hours in each other's yards, hiding in the woods, picking berries, riding bicycles, climbing trees, catching frogs, discovering old tree forts and getting told to "get lost" by the teenagers who claimed them as their own.  But those woods that my dad used to take us walking in are now suburbs, with paved roads, groomed lawns, and sprawling SUVs in the driveway.

So we went off in search of somewhere for a Sunday walk and came to the conclusion that there weren't a lot of options that didn't involve either getting in the car to drive to nature or dodging traffic as we tried to enjoy nature. Unfortunately as we pondered our options and made our plans, the rain set in and being unprepared for the weather we ended up just doing a short trip around a the Eco Museum (an outdoor animal park with local wildlife) instead of a long walk through the trees of the Morgan Aboretum.

In general, we are lucky that we live close to nature. Our kids can play in the dirt, the weeds, the leaves or the snow on our property or they can walk just past our neighbours house to go to the beach and play in the water, throw rocks into the lake, look for frogs, pick berries, and do a lot of the things that I loved as a child. But our time and our space outdoors does still seem more limited than it was when I was a child. Between work and school, errands, and visiting friends (since we don't live near anyone that we socialize with), it seems there isn't as much time to just get outside and enjoy nature.

Today's dilemma about how to get close to nature wasn't the first time that this issue has occupied my mind. A few years ago, I bought Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods as a gift for my husband. Louv links the lack of nature in the lives of today's wired generation to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rising obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder and depression. He calls this phenomenon Nature Deficit Disorder: where children like to play indoors better than outdoors "because that is where the electrical outlets are", where parents keep their children indoors because they are worried about the dangers of the outdoors (dirt, weather, predators, etc.), and where we just don't have time to let our children roam outside.

Since this is something that is often on my mind, I knew that I had to write about it when I heard Marlene Power Johnston on the radio talking about the new Carp Ridge Forest Preschool that is opening this month where the kids will spend all day outdoors! Their press release does a great job of explaining the concept:
OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwire - Sept. 30, 2008) - A Yurt will replace a classroom when Canada's first nature-based preschool for children launches on October 1, 2008. Carp Ridge Forest Preschool, situated on 190 acres of land, offers children aged three to six a chance to play in the woods on a daily basis.

Children will throw in their plastic toys for tree branches and their sneakers for boots, to head out and explore the great outdoors. They'll do things like hiking, nature crafts, outdoor yoga, shelter-building, gardening, snowshoeing and much more. In an age where families worry about childhood obesity, over-usage of technology, environmental toxins, and climate change, this program offers something different.

"As a society, we're greatly impacted by our lack of connection to the outdoors. Children are growing up in manufactured environments where they're disconnected from nature, which can lead to all kinds of social issues," said Marlene Power-Johnston, Coordinator of the Forest Preschool and mother of twenty-two month old Hazel. She became involved with the Ecowellness Centre after visiting many preschools in the Ottawa area. She felt disenchanted by the lack of natural space for children to play, and the lack of emphasis on environmental principles within conventional preschools.

The concept for the Forest Preschool, also known as "Forest Kindergartens," originated in Europe. The whole premise of the preschool is that the children spend their entire days outdoors, where they move their bodies; explore their imagination and the world in a very hands-on manner. They do this rain or shine, with a building on site for more extreme weather conditions.

The Forest Preschool, runs out of the Carp Ridge Learning Centre, which is a Charitable Organization. They strive to increase children and youths' access to nature. Subsidies are available to improve program accessibility for families with limited financial resources.

I love the concept! If it wasn't a two hour drive away, I would definitely consider enrolling my kids there. My son does spend several hours outdoors each day at his preschool, but it is usually in a fenced in play area with play structures and plastic toys and not much in the way of free interaction with nature. They do learn about nature in school and spend some time wandering the school grounds looking for leaves and things like that, but it somehow isn't the same. Makes me that much more determined to make the best of the time we do have together.

When corresponding with Marlene, she also gave me links to some related resources and similar programs

Getting kids outdoors frequently and at an early age is crucial in not only overcoming Nature Deficit Disorder, but also in making our kids care about the environment. Why would you care about something that you don't value? But beyond getting them to enjoy and value nature, with the rapid toll that climate change is having on our world, we also need to get our kids to care about making changes in the way that we treat our world. We need them to question the way we do things now and come up with creative ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

With that in mind, here are some great resources for teachers, parents or volunteers that want to make the environment a priority in our children's education:

I hope this will inspire some of you to consider starting Forest Preschools like Marlene did or at least to get outdoors more often with your kids, to teach them about the environment, and to encourage their school to develop environmental programs.

Do you have any other great ideas or resources? If so, please let me and my readers know via the comments.

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Reader Comments (13)

The Environmental education and training is very important in all over the world. The govt. of all over the nations takes big and quick steps to environment neat and green. But it’s not enough so we have to do more and more work on it. The cause of climate change is global warming and the cause of global warming is Environmental Pollution. So there is a need of awareness of people on make our Environment pollution free
and The Aarcher Institute of Environmental Training is give its contribute from many years in the field of environment training and education.
The Aarcher Institute of Environmental Training, Education and training is the sole mission of the Aarcher Institute. Aarcher Institute course offerings are continually updated and expanded to meet client requirements; however, all courses are not offered publicly at all times The Aarcher Institute of Environmental Training is an independently operated training institute supported by Aarcher, Inc. a well-respected environmental assessment, planning, and management firm. The Aarcher Institute's public training courses continually change and grow. The Aarcher Institute offers a full range of private training options.http://www.aarcherinstitute.com/courses.html

October 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterEllery

[...] think that teaching our kids about the value of helping other people, about the value of nature, and about the value of a dollar, can all help somewhat to curb the corporate influence. However, [...]

[...] think that teaching our kids about the value of helping other people, about the value of nature, and about the value of a dollar, can all help somewhat to curb the corporate influence. However, [...]

[...] active with your baby or toddler, try 4 hours instead and see if that makes a difference. Our kids need that exercise and fresh air anyways, so even if it doesn’t help with sleep, it is a good thing [...]

[...] active with your baby or toddler, try 4 hours instead and see if that makes a difference. Our kids need that exercise and fresh air anyways, so even if it doesn’t help with sleep, it is a good thing [...]

Jacob Rodenburg, executive director of Camp Kawartha & The Kawartha Outdoor Education Centre discusses the book Last Child in the Woods in his article on bringing nature back into the lives of today’s kids. It was originally published in Peterborough Kids magazine.


April 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAgnes

WOW. Forest Preschool. I LOVE this idea. Truly. Our Parks systems should support this with space & yurts. Amazing.. I am super-sensitive to the whole idea that "Nature Deficit Disorder" exists. SO incredibly sad. My kid may grow up with issues, but this will not be one of them. ugh.
- identify leaves & trees on every walk: lots of trees in the cities, afterall!
- Nat'l Geographic (not the kid version) is excellent for kids (the kid one, is actually not so great!). We read it together cover to cover.
- Watch & talk about the news. My kid was aware & involved with the oil spill: raising money & awareness at the 5yo level
- all vacations can have a nature component

We're in Canada for crying out loud. Ok. Must stop typing.. getting angry ;o)

Excellent post!! Thanks for the info!

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentertricia

Forget politics--a yurt sounds like a hell of a lot of fun! I want to go to that preschool now!

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShannon Drury

The nature preschool sounds like a wonderful idea! We live in the middle of a big city but with easy access to bike trails and parks, and we try to make the most of them. We are very fortunate that we spend a lot of time during the summer outside the city at family cottages. It's amazing how many hours my son can happily play outside when we provide him with the opportunity to do so!

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSheryl

We have an all-outdoor preschool and kindergarten in my area as well. For many reasons it is not for us, but I absolutely love that it is an option. We are lucky that the schools we do have our children at are very outdoor focused. Even in the public school they get to spend lots of time outside, on the playground yes, but also in the garden and exploring the forest. Not the same as free discovery, but better than nothing.

October 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrenna

That's so awesome. I remember hearing about these in Europe a year ago or so. I am so glad at least one has found its way to Canada.

October 14, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelodie

[...] active with your baby or toddler, try 4 hours instead and see if that makes a difference. Our kids need that exercise and fresh air anyways, so even if it doesn’t help with sleep, it is a good thing [...]

We've heard and seen the awesome benefits of summer camps for kids in tackling nature deficit disorder - leadership building and improved confidence and social skills are just some of the other many benefits of summer camp our families share with us :) We'd love to hear from more families who love camp!

June 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterErin

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