This Friday is Earth Day.
It's a perfect opportunity to get your family out and about in nature. But Earth Day is just one day. What about working the great outdoors into your life on a more regular basis?
Writer Richard Louv has the prescription for it in his new book titled "Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life."
The book includes 500 activities for families to connect with the natural world and combat what Louv calls "nature-deficit disorder."
What is 'nature-deficit disorder'?
It's not a known medical diagnosis. Maybe it should be, but it isn't yet. But it is a way to talk about what we've all sensed has been going on for a couple decades which is the disconnection of children from the natural world and the effects of that which I think affect, certainly the studies back this up now, affect mental health, physical health, cognitive development, the ability to be creative and to learn.
What happens when you take nature away from kids?
Personally I believe that the senses atrophy. I think that there's more likelihood of attention-deficit disorder. Certainly the studies at the University of Illinois connect that to time spent in nature, that those symptoms can be relieved or reduced with just a little bit of time in the natural world. Even a walk through trees in an urban setting can help.
The scientists who study the human senses no longer talk about five senses, they talk conservatively about 10 senses, and as many as 30 human senses. But we spend most of our days trying to block out as many of those senses as we can. Certainly our kids do. We're creating environments at school and at home in which our kids are spending more and more of their time connected to screens and spending that energy blocking out their senses. That to me is the very definition of being less alive.
How can families inject more nature into their lives?
- Crying baby in a restaurant? Take them outside and find a tree. Get close to the bark and touch it and they'll calm down immediately
- Go to a park with your kids, lie on your backs and look up at the trees and just "bliss out"
- Go camping in your backyard
- Take a "belly hike"-- you literally get down on your stomachs and you go as slow as you can through the yard or through an area in the woods under the trees and you look to see what you find
- Live in an urban area? Put on backpacks and take a hike through your neighborhood to look for nature
- Use your "snake tongue," "deer ears" or "owl eyes." It's a way of mimicking other creatures to excite the senses
- Use a compass to rediscover the fine art of finding your way
Have your own tips? Submit them here.
What are the benefits?
These small activities matter hugely. Yes, we're enriching our children's lives when we give them the gift of nature, but we're [also] creating memories for them and ourselves.
One of the problems is that people think of nature as a 'nice to have,' as extraneous, but when you begin to think about it as something that will develop your child's cognitive functioning, their ability to learn, their creativity, as well as their physical health, their mental health. When you begin to think about it in that way, then it becomes a real enrichment.
To hear the full interview with Richard Louv, click the blue player above.
The national book launch for "Vitamin N" is Tuesday, April 19th at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. Find more information here.