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Play in the Dirt

Nature education combats Nature Deficit Disorder in children.

Imagine a world where an epidemic is striking children and the doors to warm homes are shut tight. Within those walls, children are plugged-in to technology.

The trees that line the vacant streets remain unclimbed as parents quickly move their children into their cars to drive them from one activity to another. No echoing laughter can be heard echoing because no children play outside.

This may sound like the introduction to a Science Fiction story, but to many kids this is a reality. Nature Deficit Disorder is becoming more and more common among children being reared in the electronic age.

Author Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder (which is not a medical disorder) in his book Last Child in the Woods to describe the psychological and physical costs of human alienation from nature.

, which was founded in 2001 by native Athenian Evan McGown, is doing all it can to get children outside and back into nature. According to their website, the goal of Wild Intelligence is to care for the earth and our children by connecting them with nature, community, and self.

Their mission is urgent. Statistics show that 67% of parents said their children spent less time outdoors than the summer before. An alarming 91% of parents blamed TV, computers, and video games for their children’s lack of interest in getting outdoors.  Many developmental disorders that affect children today, such as Asperger's Syndrome or Attention Defecit Disorder, run parallel to children being kept indoors.

McGown, along with staff member Tommy Tye, leads programs for adults, children, and families who want to reconnect with nature. "We want to work with families and have adults rediscover a playfulness and a love of nature," he said. "Children look to adults, and many parents are fear-ridden and have their kids under house arrest."

He believes children are naturally curious and that it's important to get them outside to touch, build, smell, splash, dig, and play in the dirt. With programs such as their once-a-week after school program for children and the Athens Skills Club for adults, their Natural Empowerment Curriculum ranges from hazard and awareness basics to bird language and deep sensory awareness.

"Our goal has nothing to do with information, it has to do with connection," McGown said. "When children feel that connection, they will have a twinkle in their eye, their chest will puff up, and they will have an aliveness to their body."

His enthusiasm is infectious. After talking with him, I forced my boys to log off the computer, turn off the television, and scoot outside to play. Their laughter filled our quiet neighborhood and their little faces looked so happy to be covered in dirt.

For more information about The Institute of Wild Intelligence, please visit their website.

Do you feel that children are in danger of  losing a connection with nature? Do your children often play outside? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

tiffanie December 15, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Thanks, Leigh. I actually have no doubt in my mind that spending time in nature is a benefit to everyone and that there is a noticeable difference in concentration levels after spending time in nature vs. indoors. I will take some time to check out the website when I have a little time. I have a feeling I will agree with what they are saying there. Again, that quote just was so vague and generalized. In skimming some of the stuff from the website right now, I saw the stuff about soothing ADD with nature, but nothing suggesting that there's a causal relationship between lack of outdoor time and having ADD to begin with. Certainly interesting stuff. Thanks.
Scarlet Buckley December 15, 2011 at 02:02 AM
I definitely notice that my son is contrary and irritable when he doesn't have enough time to be in the woods. Our experience makes me think it must be the case for other kids, too. I'm so thankful for the work that Evan and Tommy are doing! My son gets to work with Wild Intelligence through his school, and he loves it!
Sheri December 15, 2011 at 12:13 PM
My daughter did the summer camps last summer and loved it. She came home totally dirty and happy! I also loved that she wasn't cooped up all day with just a few minutes outside. We are already signed up for the spring break camp!
Erinbjenkins December 15, 2011 at 08:18 PM
thanks for this article. i think it is uber inportant for everyone to spend time in nature. it sets you up to contemplate all kinds of things like light, changing seasons, and textures that you can feel. My family has "gardentime" at the end of every day, just to catch a breath and relax before the nighttime routine begins. we have been doing that since my son was just 5 months old. oh, and we live in a loft with no yard, but we have this tiny strip of "garden" in the back with some pebbles, greenbeans growing up a trellis, and some sticks. He loves the sticks and leaves the best.
Melissa Steele December 15, 2011 at 11:16 PM
I am THRILLED to hear about these programs since I've been touting spending time in nature for ALL humans, not just children! In fact my upcoming art exhibit addresses this issue as well as ties in River Stewardship to the time we spend in nature. My project will also encourage Adopt-A-Mile programs as part of the River stewardship. www.mechanted.com

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