A peek into many classrooms will reveal tapping toes, fidgeting fingers, and wriggling bottoms. Some students seem to possess excess energy that bubbles to the surface of the learning process, thus disrupting the learning journey of others.
Many kids receive diagnoses of ADHD; professionals label some with behavior issues. Teachers and parents alike become frustrated, but the solution could be as simple as more outdoor play time.
Instead of ADHD, many students may suffer from NDD: Nature-Deficit Disorder.
What is Nature-Deficit Disorder?
Proponents say that kids who lack opportunities to experience authentic play outside have Nature-Deficit Disorder. Richard Louv coined this term in his book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. The term is not an actual medical diagnosis – it’s a reference to the growing gap between children and experiences in and with nature.
Some experts believe when kids do get to go outside these days, the experiences are somewhat artificial. According to author Cheryl Charles, “Most kids today have limited direct experience with the outdoors. If they are outdoors, it is likely to be in organized sports and on playground equipment, often on asphalt playgrounds.”
Few would argue with the benefits of organized sports and playground equipment, but time to roam through fields, climb trees, or sort collected leaves is also important to kids’ overall development.
Barriers to Nature: Technology
Many kids have limited or no opportunities to experience this kind of exploration. In a world that is becoming increasingly technology-based, kids are often in front of some kind of screen for many hours a day. From tablets to hand-held devices, it is difficult for some kids to sit with the peace and stillness that come with being in a natural setting. Kids become comfortable – and sometimes addicted – to the distraction technology provides. This is evident in the youth that is rarely seen without headphones or a smartphone.
Childhood’s Hectic Schedule
Kids are also busier than ever. In a culture that values productivity and a hectic pace, it is not surprising this mindset has filtered down to children. Just ask the average child about his or her after-school schedule. You’re likely to hear about a hefty list of practices, games, and lessons that often begin minutes after the bell rings. There isn’t time for many kids to play outside. They are moving, but often on a circuit of over-scheduled activities.
Parental Fear and Attitude
Parental fear is another factor that prevents kids from exploring the outdoors. Fading are the days when kids get lost in woods nearby their home, or even go on long bike rides around the neighborhood with friends. Over the past few decades, parents have grown fearful of not keeping a constant watchful eye on their kids.
Child predators and the perils of nature are among some of the reasons parents don’t want their kids venturing too far. In addition, sometimes parental attitude toward the great outdoors sets the tone for kids. Parents who spend little time outside themselves or are squeamish about bugs, snakes, or other critters are likely to have children who adopt the same attitude.
Kids Need To Move
Regardless of reason, teachers and parents now notice the excess energy. It is often difficult for teachers to accomplish all that school administrators and parents expect of them when students distract others with impulsive behaviors.
Angela Hanscom, founder of nature-based development program Timbernook, offers the following observation in reference to fidgeting in the classroom in her book, The Real Reason Why Kids Fidget: And What We Can Do About It, saying, “The problem: children are constantly in an upright position these days. It is rare to find children rolling down hills, climbing trees, and spinning in circles just for fun.”
This lack of movement may hinder a child’s vestibular system development, which helps with balance skills. While this is a complicated system that develops over time, problems with balance can lead to learning difficulties.
Hanscom underscores this concern: “Children are going to class with bodies that are less prepared to learn than ever before. With sensory systems not working right, they are asked to sit and pay attention.”
The key is to get kids moving, preferably in an outdoor setting where they can tumble, spin, and roll while they play and explore.
What Parents Can Do
With the demands of work, volunteering, and child care, just to name a few, parents are just as busy as kids. So what can you do to help get your kids back outside – or introduce them to the wonders of the natural world?
When parents think about their daily routine and kids’ activities, it is often overwhelming to think about paring down the schedule. Most kids have varied interests and many genuinely enjoy the activities in which they participate. So for families who are not able to cut back in order to get outside more or have a child who is resistant to the outdoors, keep it simple and based on the activities the kids already do, such as homework and eating.
Here is a list for those who wish to start small, as well as for those who strive to set more adventurous goals:
- Read Outside: Most kids have some degree of homework. Consider having your child do his or her homework outside, perhaps at a picnic table. Or how about sending your child out to read under a tree? This may lead to a few minutes of outside play.
- Eat Outside: If possible, send your kid outside if he or she has an after school snack or treat. Feeling inspired? Plan a picnic dinner for your family.
- Institute a “green time”: The National Wildlife Federation recommends parents give their kids a “green hour” each day. But 15-20 minutes a day is good start. This is a time when kids can get outside to explore and engage in unstructured play in a natural setting– whether that includes the backyard or a trip to the park.
- Family walk: Go for a family walk after dinner or at night when there is a full moon. This is a good time to see and hear the sights and sounds of night: stars, bats, chirping insects, frogs, and perhaps even an owl.
- Childhood Traditions: Bring back fun from your own childhood. For example, show your kids how to catch fireflies and release them. Play flashlight tag at dusk or kick the can. Start a leaf collection. Take your kids fishing. Show them how to climb a tree.
- Plant a garden, even if it’s a small one. Your kids could be in charge of their own row or one particular crop. No room? Try using large containers or pots.
- Go Geocaching– If your kids enjoy treasure hunts, then this activity may interest your family.
- Backyard camping. Consider pitching a tent in your own backyard. Families can even sign up for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great American Backyard Campout. Perhaps the kids will later turn the tent into a reading nook or fort.
- Start a rock collection with your child. Kids often enjoy the varying colors and textures of rocks, which can also be turned into fun craft or science projects.
- Plant a tree for a special or honored loved one or occasion such as a birth, new home, marriage, or death in the family. Take pictures of family members next to the tree as the tree grows. It might just become a climbing tree someday!
- Consult your local National Wildlife Refuge, nature center, or even the library for further tips. Consider a resource such as Rebecca Cohen’s book: 15 Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids. This book offers up advice on getting outside in short increments of time according to season.
Whole Child Benefits
The options for getting your family outside are numerous. Richard Louv reminds parents, “View nature as an antidote to stress.” All the health benefits that come to a child come to the adult who takes that child into nature. Children and parents feel better after spending time in the natural world- even if it’s their own backyard.
The goal is to get kids outside so they are comfortable exploring, digging, observing, and enjoying the natural setting around them. These experiences are bound to nurture the whole child- not just relieve some of the pent-up energy.
Not only will kids get physical exercise, but they will take in fresh air, sharpen their senses, build concentration, and calm their minds and bodies. Some kids may actually have ADHD, some may just be “body smart,” and some may need to get outside and move more.
Regardless, the benefits of playing outside will be noticeable at home, are likely to transfer to school, and will surely follow them for a lifetime.© Copyright 2014 Julie Lemming, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Parenting