Nature Deficit Disorder: Is There Something Lacking in Our Lives?
In late 2009 a book called 'Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder' caused an uncomfortable stir in the UK.
The author, Richard Louv, argues that lack of contact with the natural world is causing physical and mental harm to a whole generation of children. Since the 1970's, the distance from home that today's youngsters are allowed to play has been shown to have declined by 90%.
Parents' fears for their safety, the growth of IT and computer games, the decline of physical education in schools and the time constraints imposed on hardworking parents have all contributed to this situation.
The Woods instead of Ritalin? Significant decreases in blood pressure in people surveying an aquarium or looking at an open landscape have shown up in literally dozens of clinical studies. The release of 'happy-making' endorphins has long been a known benefit of physical activity, yet many, if not most, of our children are transported to school in vehicles, spend break times consuming sugary and fatty snacks and are returned to a home where safety concerns mean they are not free to run around out of doors in the evenings. Using the TV or games console as a babysitter is considered by often-busy parents to be a safer and easier option thank having to supervise outdoor play - and who can blame them.
Ecotherapy for Children: Forest School
Playing in the Forest
In the UK the rise of Forest School over the last decade has begun to provide us with some useful data and experience on which we may be able to begin to turn things around for our children and for those of us who may be suffering from Nature Deficit Disorders.
Forest School involves children from pre-nursery age upwards in regular activity sessions held in an outdoor setting over a substantial period of time. Hands-on experience of woodlands, small creatures, specially-designed activities and games has been shown to rapidly bring about an increase in self-confidence, improvements in attitude and behaviour
Forest School Practitioners are very well qualified and are backed up by excellent First Aid and Health and Safety training. Children soon start to look forward to their weekly woodland experience and often take their families to visit their local woodlands as a result. In a country like the UK, which, unlike many Scandinavian and Eastern European countries, lacks its own forest culture, there is growing evidence that the many benefits of Forest School are opening up hearts and minds to using our vast forest resource for well-being purposes.
This type of activity is not limited to use with children. Ecotherapists and Forest School practitioners can, and do, work with community groups, clubs and organisations, adult resource centres, individuals and even corporate groups to bestow huge and long-lasting benefits, both in physical and psychological well-being.