Could parents toss the Ritalin and Dexedrine out the proverbial window in favor of having their children look out a window--at trees, birds, and green growing things?
Sounds simplistic, doesn't it. But, an amazing new book, Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv surveys the literature and suggests there is a strong connection between ADHD and lost opportunities for children's unregimented play steeped in nature.
In his introduction, Louv notes that by the 1990s the distance around home a child was allowed to roam on their own had shrunk almost 10 times that of the 1970s. Many children today have had no experience at all of wandering at will, poking into natural environments, building nests and forts, encountering wild animals, splashing in a swimming hole --discovering and exploring wildness.
"I like to play indoors better 'cause that's where all the electrical outlets are," reports a fourth-grader."
Given the pervasive availability of computer, electronic games, and TV, it's no wonder many children spend such little time outdoors. Middle-class households today are highly structured environments with music and dance lessons, classes, sports, and other, mostly indoor supervised activities allowing little free time for kids to be on their own out of doors.
While this book is focus mainly on children, recent research shows adults too benefit from "'green time."
A Swedish study in 2001 demonstrated that time spent in nature can help adults recover from normal psychological wear and tear, and it also improves the capacity to pay attention.
Study subjects were tested in their by copy-proofing ability. Researchers found a a walk in a nature preserve was more effective in restoring the subject's stress and attention to detail than alternate walks in an urban environment, or sitting quietly listening to music or reading a book. The nature walk seemed also to promote positive attitudes and less anger.
From the introduction:
One evening when my boys were younger, Mathew, then ten, looked at me from across a restaurant tab table and said quite seriously, " Dad, how come it was more fun when your were a kid?"
I asked what he meant.
"Well, you're always talking ab out your woods and tree houses, and how you used to ride that horse down near the swamp."
At first, I thought he was irritated with me. I had, in fact, been telling what it was like to use string and pieces of liver to catch crawdads in a creek, something I'd been hard-pressed to find a child doing these days. Like many parents, I do tend to romanticize my own childhood--and, I fear, too readily discount my children's experiences of play and adventure. But my son was serious; he felt he had missed out on something important.
He was right. Americans around my age, baby boomers or older, enjoyed a kind of free, natural play that seems, in the era of kid pagers, instant messaging and Nintendo, like a quaint artifact.
Within the space of a few decades, the way children understand and experience nature has changed radically. The polarity of the relationship has reversed. Today, kind are aware of the global threats to the environment--but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading. That's exactly the opposite of how it was when I was a child.
As a boy, I was unaware that my woods were ecologically connected with any other forests. Nobody in the 1950s talked about acid rain or holes in the ozone layer or global warming. But I knew my woods and my fields; I knew every bend in the creek and dip in the beaten dirt paths. I wandered those woods even in my dreams. A kid today can likely tell you ab out the Amazon rain forest--but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind and watching the clouds move.
To be continued...