Author Richard Louv, in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, coined a phrase that has stayed with me since I first heard it. In his book he states that children are spending more and more time indoors and are thus suffering from what he describes as “Nature Deficit Disorder.” There is plenty of data to back up Louv’s claim that children are spending more time indoors. The American Pediatric Association recently reported that an average eight year old child in the United States spends eight hours a day in front of a screen (computer, mobile device, or television) and that the number increases to eleven hours a day for teens. Nature Deficit Disorder is not a medical diagnosis, but is a way to call attention to the fact that children are too often missing out on the whole-health (body, mind, and spirit) benefits of spending time outdoors.
Apparently Nature Deficit Disorder is not only affecting children. It seems that most everyone, when given a chance, retreats to nature for renewal. As I view emails and Facebook posts from countless friends who are taking a vacation now, I see that almost every one of my friends is choosing to spend a large portion of their vacation time doing something outdoors, away from screens. They are cherry picking, mountain climbing, camping, kayaking, biking, golfing, hiking, fishing, spending time at the beach, going to summer camp, gardening, attending picnics, and enjoying countless other outside activities. People seem to be naturally aware of the restorative health benefits that come from spending time outdoors. I understand this myself and thus my wife and I have just finalized our plans for a Canadian wilderness canoe trip in a few weeks.
A friend of mine who is a grade school teacher loves to spend time in her garden, and when she is not in her garden, she is often biking, hiking, or kayaking. She is concerned about children experiencing Nature Deficit Disorder and so when I visited her classroom last year I was not surprised to see that there were many nature-themed posters on the walls. Each of the posters contained a motivational quote to inspire the children to spend time outside. Not being able actually hold class outside, she had found a way to bring the lessons of nature indoors. I remember one poster of a large oak tree in particular and I will close this week’s column with the wisdom from this poster. The photo of the mature oak tree was stunning and it drew you closer so that you could read this message that was the central focus of the poster. Here’s what it said:
Advice From a Tree
By Ilan Shamir
I need to go now-I need to get away from my screen and get outside to see what important lesson or advice nature has to offer me today.