Our increasing reliance on technology, and continued loss of natural spaces, is creating a “nature deficit disorder” among our children. While many of us know connecting our children with the natural world enhances their well-being, research suggests there may be an ideal window of time in which to connect children with nature if they are to have the best chance of developing a lifelong connection with it.
This 2007 report titled “Natural Thinking” discusses a U.K. study that found adults’ attitudes towards nature, and how much time they spent in nature, were influenced by their connection with nature as children before the age of 12.
This 2011 survey, funded by The Nature Conservancy, The Toyota USA Foundation, and the Foundation for Youth Investment, found that 88% of American youth spend time online every day, yet fewer than two out of five did any of the following on a weekly basis:
- Hike outside
- Fish or hunt
- Visit a local park, creek or beach in a city of town
- Visit a national or state park outside a city
- Visit a natural area outdoors
At the same time, parents and organizations are finding ways to change this nature deficit. For example, The Children and Nature Network’s mission is to make sure connection to nature is available to all.
When I was a child, my mother used to take me on walks as winter turned into spring. One of the games we would play was ‘who will spot the first green leaf?’ As we walked, I would search all the bushes, trees, and plants we passed, eagerly looking for the first hint of green. Today, I still pay careful attention to emerging leaves in spring, and when I spot my first glimpse of green, I’m filled with great joy.
What are some ways you might connect the youth in your life to the natural world?