I remember growing up in small-town central Minnesota. I remember sitting on the edge of the cement from my parents’ welding shop. I would make mudpies. I remember walking through the shop, and everywhere for that matter, with bare feet (this is where my husband says, “you don’t have bear feet, you have human feet”). Anyway, we were outside all the time and I think I am telling a story many are familiar with, especially if you grew up in rural areas.
Fast forward to nowadays, we actually have a term to describe children’s lack of access to nature. Richard Louv, in his book, Last Child of the Woods, discussed this phenomenon and coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder.” I admit, it sounds a little silly, like a made-up disease or something, but if you look around, it doesn’t seem so strange, especially in urban areas. My patio overlooks a parking lot and large intersection. I work in my home office – some days I don’t leave the house (sad, I know). When I do leave, I’m often running errands, driving, parking, shopping – all manmade. Some days I feel like I have nature deficit disorder and I love nature. I did my master’s thesis on the effects of spending time in nature – it’s kind of a big deal to me. My husband is a tree guy, he works in plant/tree health care and loves insects. I like weeds and using plants for medicinal purposes. Between the two of us, there is a lot of talk about natural things, but it still often feels just out of reach. I dream of living quietly in the mountains, with a babbling brook running through, wildlife, peace and serenity.
Sometimes I wonder if I yearn for this quiet simplicity because I grew up that way, or because it’s something deeper. I wonder if people who grew up in urban areas have a similar sense, or if it’s too outside of their experience to even know if they want it. And then there are the kids, who are young and impressionable. Parents have the opportunity to teach about the environment, to send their kids outside to play, to teach them outdoor activities or to send them to camp. Research has shown (time and time again) that spending time in unstructured play outdoors leads to less depression, increased creativity, better problem solving skills, better behaviors in school, etc.
Time for a shameless plug…I am working with an organization called Sajai Foundation, based in Minnesota. Sajai’s mission is to teach kids about healthy living (fighting obesity), exercise and connecting with nature (fighting nature deficit disorder). They have an event on September 29, 2012, at North Mississippi Regional Park. It’s called the Amazing Walk and rather than being a race, it’s a family-friendly event with challenge stations to teach kids about exercise and nature. Find out more here!