Remember Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes? He was a mischievous but imaginative six year old boy who, with his imaginary/magical tiger friend Hobbes, would wander out into the woods to ponder the universe and his place in it.
Well, it turns out that having access to a bit of nature is actually pretty important to a child's development.
Green spaces have well documented beneficial effects for people. We all feel better when we just look at natural scenes , children with access to green spaces tend to be more psychologically healthy , and even adding a little green space to a child's play area in schools encourages prosocial behavior .
But there's something preventing a lot of kids from getting as much nature time as they need; a little something that 2020 has gifted us called the COVID-19 pandemic.
An article at the New York Times called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ Is Really a Thing has talked about Nature Deficit Disorder, a nonmedical condition that is centered around behavioral issues with children who have limited access to nature. In the article, Richard Louv , a journalist and the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” wrote “As young people spend less of their lives in natural surroundings, their senses narrow, both physiologically and psychologically.”
Louise Chawla , Ph.D., a professor emerita at the University of Colorado Boulder, studies the effects of nature and urban spaces on children. She found that kids need to learn autonomy and self-reliance to develop, which grow by interaction with the natural world.
“If you explore a woody area in the park, there is something for every age there,” Dr. Chawla said. “There are rocks of different weights, stumps of different sizes, lighter and heavier sticks. Whatever a child’s current skill level is, they can work toward their next level of challenge. They are learning about their own capabilities.”
Ming Kuo , Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Illinois who studies urban greening has shown that access to green space boosts the immune system while decreases aggression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Unfortunately people's access to nature is splint on economic and racial lines. “Overall, wealthier areas are much greener with more street trees, more lawns and gardens, and more parks. It also varies by race because of segregationist housing policies,” Dr. Kuo said.
In reconnecting with nature, Dr. Kuo said activities could take “a variety of forms — a hike in a forest preserve, or fishing or gardening, obviously, but also smaller doses we might not think of: walking in a tree-lined neighborhood, a glimpse of a green view through the window, the scent of roses. Every bit helps.”
“We now know, not just intellectually but based on recent lived experience, that not all activities are created equal when it comes to enhancing our children’s mood and behavior. Prioritizing time in nature, exercise, and even some unstructured downtime is analogous to prioritizing our children’s mental health, which is more important now than ever,” says Rebecca Hershberg , Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in early childhood social-emotional development and mental health.
“Children are moving all the time, but they also show sustained fascination,” Dr. Chawla said. “Even a tiny bit of green space can be a place to slow down, watch an insect, move some dirt around.”