Dear Mr. Dad: My kids, 9 and 11, spend a fair amount of time with electronic games but my husband and I insist that they spend an equal amount of time reading.
They both play outdoor sports (one does soccer, the other baseball), but no matter what we do, we just can’t get them to hang around outside and have fun by themselves. Got any suggestions?
A: What you’re describing sounds like a case of Nature Deficit Disorder – a phrase coined by Richard Louv in his book, “Last Child in the Woods.” Louv says that there are significant psychological, physical, and cognitive costs to not spending adequate time in nature.
Although Louv’s phrase sounds a little alarmist – the last thing parents need to worry about is yet another disorder – there’s a growing body of research that supports the idea.
For example, Americans are about 25 percent less likely to visit national and state parks than we were just 25 years ago. Our children spend less time playing outside – and a lot more playing inside – than we did at their age. When kids finally do get to play outside, they don’t get nearly the same amount of freedom to explore as we did.
The situation is aggravated by elementary schools that have reduced or eliminated recesses.
The good news is that play in nature – particularly unstructured play – benefits children in a variety of ways, including improving problem-solving skills, increasing focus and creativity, bolstering self-discipline, reducing stress and aggressive behavior, and even increasing IQ.
So how do you get your kids outside?
• Do some research. The Children & Nature Network has compiled a list of organizations, campaigns and programs. The list (at childrenandnature.org/ movement/info) will help you connect with resources in your community. Other groups, such as the Sierra Club (sierraclub.org/youth) and National Wildlife Federation (nwf.org/Kids) have programs aimed at children.
• Do some reading. There are lots of places to get suggestions for outdoor activities to do with your kids. Two recent books that I really like are “Wild Play: Parenting Adventures in the Great Outdoors,” by David Sobel and “It’s a Jungle out There! 52 Nature Adventures for City Kids,” by Jennifer Ward.
• Set a good example. Put some air in your bike tires, dust off your skateboard, buy some bug repellant, get your sleeping bags and tent cleaned, put new batteries in your flashlights and start making plans.