Between television, the Internet, computer games, and afternoons filled with enrichment activities, kids have more reasons than ever to stay indoors. Richard Louv, author and journalist, hypothesizes in his book Last Child in the Woods (2005) that many modern children suffer from “nature deficit disorder”. He posits that constant separation from nature during developmental years leads to a myriad of behavioral and physiological problems, including ADD, myopia, obesity, and diabetes.
1. How Parents Can Help
Parents can help their children improve health, creativity and academic performance by facilitating quality time spent outdoors. Here are a few ways you can get your children out into nature on a regular basis:
2. Make a Safe Backyard
If you have a backyard, make it a safe and inviting place where your children can play safely with fairly “hands-off” supervision. If you’re worried about little ones running into the street, install a fence to keep them corralled on the grassy lawn. Make sure your yard is clear of any harmful litter. Help your kids build an outdoor “clubhouse” of their very own.
3. Ditch the TV
Children have wild imaginations and are very good at entertaining themselves – but usually only if TV isn’t an option. If you must have a TV, keep it unplugged in your bedroom. Only use it for special movie nights. Don’t let TV become the default activity for time spent at home!
4. Family Hikes
Instill an early love of nature in your children by taking them on regular hikes. Hikes should be an appropriate length and not too challenging for your kids. A trail that’s too difficult might put them off hiking forever! Most county, state and national parks will have well-maintained trails.
Geocaching is like hiking, but with a treasure-hunting twist that appeals to kids. The concept is simple. A “cache” (usually a small box) is hidden, and its coordinates recorded. Use a GPS device to walk out to the coordinates and locate the cache with a treasure inside. Locate cache coordinates near you at geocaching.com.
6. Vacation in the Woods
Don’t book a hotel for your next vacation. Try camping instead. Not only is it significantly cheaper, it will get your kids up close and personal with nature. Most state and national parks offer well-maintained campgrounds in beautiful areas close to hiking trails and waterways.
7. Cut Back on After-School Extracurriculars
Many children wake up early in the morning and go to school until early or mid-afternoon. Instead of having a few hours to play outside, they have to go to after-school enrichment activities. After that, they have to do homework. Give your child a break. Don’t push them to take on too many extracurriculars. Give them time every day to play outside in the park. It might just help their grades more than after-school Spanish lessons.
8. Is Your Kid Going Outside Enough?
Ensuring that your child gets enough time outside is a challenge. Help your child by creating safe and engaging opportunities to spend quality time in the natural world.