Have you ever wondered if the rise of video games and time spent on the couch during childhood is fueling our nationwide epidemic of attention-deficit disorder and behavior problems?
“The woods were my Ritalin. Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.”- Richard Louv
Louv discusses in his book, “Last Child in the Woods”, the importance of play and experience outdoors during the developmental stages of early life. Try to remember your favorite place as a child. Was it the tree in your backyard or the lake you visited with your grandfather? My special place was under a tree near the small creek that ran through the woods behind my childhood home. There I felt like a could breathe and think clearly, and it belonged entirely to me. This feeling should be something every child experiences.
Early humans were apart of the First Frontier where nearly every facet of life depended on nature: food, shelter, and entertainment. The Second Frontier existed early in the past century when children admired explorers of the wilderness, and the interest in creating and visiting state parks was high. Now America’s children are being raised in the Third Frontier, or the era of electronic detachment. The attraction of television and video games has lured children away from interaction with nature and outdoor play. The experience of pretend play outside away from the “Adult World” is essential for a feeling of confidence and independence, as well as connecting neural networks necessary for attention and focus. Parents once could easily encourage their kids to explore as long as they wanted outside, whether in the city or country, but now outdoors is shrinking everywhere and safety is a growing issue. Outdoor play has shrunk to the neighborhood cul-de-sac, and the instantly entertaining video games and TV shows have made a game of basketball seem unappealing. A fourth grader from San Diego was quoted as saying he “likes to play indoors, ‘cus that’s where all the electrical outlets are.” Maybe we should consider this overwhelming new problem an issue with Nature-Deficit, instead of Attention-Deficit.
Neither Louv or I am saying that Gameboys and I-Pads should be banned from children forever, but there needs to be a greater balance between the use of technology and time spent in fresh air, free from distractions.
How can we make this happen? Kids need to start learning early the excitement and freedom that the outdoors can bring and how important it is to protect and admire it. Although the biggest influence in getting kids back outside will always be their parents, our school systems should be where the biggest change is made. Not only should recess be brought back in schools that have started to do without it, but outdoor education and exploration should be given proper time and attention.
“An environment-based education movement–at all levels of education–will help students realize that school isn’t supposed to be a polite form of incarceration, but a portal to the wider world.”- Richard Louv
To learn more about Richard Louv and his book, click here.
Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2008.