Nature Deficit Disorder – Do your kids have it?

NATURE DEFICIT DISORDER is one of the newest plagues affecting our homes and our children. The good news, it can be prevented.

By definition, Nature Deficit Disorder is a lack of routine contact with nature that results in stunted academic and developmental growth.

NDD is an unwanted side effect of the electronic age. Too much time with technology, means not enough time outside.

Did you know….

* About 9 million children ages 6-19 are overweight or obese.

* Childhood obesity has doubled over the last 30 years for preschoolers and adolescents. It has more than tripled for kids 6-11.

* ADD, asthma, and obesity have increased over the last few decades.

* Our children may be the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents. Yikes!

Many argue that these statistics are a direct result of children not spending enough time outside in nature.

There are so many reasons why  we should send our kids outside to play?

  • Helps build healthy immune systems in children.
  • Buffers children against the effects of stressful events.
  • Positive effect on the psychological well-being of children.
  • Less anxiety
  • Less Depression
  • Children feel better about themselves, higher sense of self worth
  • They recover more quickly from stressful life events
  • Lower levels of behavioral disorders.
  • Improved attention span
  • Ability to concentrate and pay attention better
  • Teaches children to be more creative and to solve problems

As Parents it is our responsibility to keep NDD at bay. So, what can we do?

1.    Be a good role model.

Children do, for the most part, what their parents do. Sedentary parents are more likely to have sedentary children. If we spend all our time inside, or in front of the tv or computer, so will our children. Model the behavior you want your children to emulate. Go outside, take walks, explore, teach children to respect nature.

2.    Limit Screen Time.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours of screen time a day. Turn the TV/computer/video games off and encourage your children to go outside and play.

3.    Plan an outside family activity EVERY week.

Get your kids excited about being outside by planning fun and exciting activities. Once a week, plan to explore the outdoors with your kids. You could go to your local river, beach, forest, or city park. Let your kids help with the planning and they will be extra excited to see the fruits of their labors. Sometimes our outside family activity is simple, like a picnic, or reading library books on the grass. We have started doing scavenger hunts outside, based on the latest book we have read. It is fun to go out and make correlations between what we have read and what is in nature. You will have to be more creative if you have an upcoming snowy winter, but it can be done. Take the sled out, rent some snow shoes, put on your boots and gloves and go for a walk. We like to bundle up and sit on the porch with popcorn and hot chocolate. The kids don’t even mind the snow.

4.    Start an outdoor campaign at your children’s school.

Volunteer a little of your time to get kids outside. Teach them to respect the environment, take them out to play games, teach bird watching, or bug collecting. Even teaching them about the different types of clouds will get classes outside in the fresh air. It can be hard for teachers to do these extra activities. Help them out.

5.    Plant a garden.

Get your children involved and plant a garden. Let them help with every step. The time you spend caring for your veggies will not only build your relationship, but get your family outside more often.

6.    Be creative with “Outside Toys” and Invest in a few also.

Kids don’t need a lot of “equipment” to have fun. Water, trees, flowers, fields, bushes and streams are the best kind of toys because they can be anything the imagination decides. You can have a few purchased options that will also add to the fun.  Invest in a few different balls, some soccer cones, hula hoops, jump rope, sidewalk chalk, bubbles, water guns. You can also make up fun games outside. We love to play “I Spy,”(I spy with my little eye…something….blue). Or “What fell from the sky.” (we try to name things that have fallen.)

7.     Go on Walks

When the weather permits, our family takes a walk everyday after dinner. The tradition started when my husband and I were newlyweds. Three children later it is still one of our favorite things to do. It is a chance for us to talk to our children, each other, and get fresh air.

8.     Let your children go outside.

I know this is hard when we hear about a child abduction nearly every week on the news, but we can’t be paranoid parents. We don’t want our children to live in fear either. We have to trust and let them play. A lot of our anxiety will go away if we will go outside with our kids.

And, it’s okay to let them get dirty. I have a hard time with this one. I have really had to relax and let our kids be kids. I am still strongly opposed to them eating dirt, but I am not nearly as uptight about the dirty clothes as I used to be. Stunted academic and developmental growth, or a little extra laundry. Easy choice.

9.    Get involved with local organizations.

Community Centers in your area, as well as your local library will probably have a few outdoor activities planned. Also, don’t underestimate the Chamber of Commerce. Give them a call and see what your community has planned. The activities are usually free.

If you struggle to get your kids excited about going outside, start by turning off technology and head outside with them. I know there is lots to do inside, but forget the housework and go outside and play. It will help them want to get involved. A great way to get in a “habit” of limiting technology, have a technology fast. Turn off technology for a week. You will love the difference it makes in your home. You will also find that in just a week, kids don’t care about T.V. very much.

Would you like to read more about NDD? One of the best books on the subject, Last Child in the Woods:Saving our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

Parents can suffer from NDD also. Do you need some fresh air? Take a few minutes and evaluate the time your family spends inside, maybe a life change is needed for everyone.

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