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The Science Behind Nature

Nature hikes, trekking through the woods, swimming in crystal clear springs, snorkeling among coral reefs, geocaching, imaginative adventures in treehouses, and park visits are being replaced with smart phones, tablets, television, and video games. The result is a spike in clinical ADHD cases. So why is this trend such a growing epidemic? Our culture pressures families to have overwhelming schedules, overpopulates cities, and destroys outdoor habitats, all while mainstream media sensationalizes dangers.

Bestselling author, Richard Louv coined the term “” to describe the increasing loss of connectivity between children and the natural world. lastchildrevised-2Louv attributes Poor designs of neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and cities create barriers to experiencing nature in a safe capacity and feed the disorder. In his book Last Child in the Woods, he cites a 50% decline in outdoor playtime from 1997 to 2003. The study targeted children in the U.S. between the ages of nine and twelve. In Australia, a study surveyed 1975 children and found that 37% spent less than thirty minutes each day playing outdoors after school. In contrast, 43% dedicated more than two hours of playing on an electronic device or watching a television screen. Louv hypothesizes that this trend adversely impacts children on both a physiological and psychological level.  He goes on to argue that nature is an effective therapeutic tool for ADHD and recommends that parents and educators provide more natural experiences to help minimize ADHD    symptoms and boost attentional functioning.

Scientists from around the country are offering evidence to back Louv’s premise.  The Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle claim that for every hour of television that a preschooler watches per day, there is 10% increase in the likelihood that he or she will develop concentration problems by the age of seven years old. At the University of Illinois, the Human-Environment Research Laboratory has also conducted studies analyzing this topic. Their research has yielded findings to suggest that children as young as five years old have demonstrated significant reductions in the symptoms of ADHD when engaged with nature (Kuo & Taylor, 2004).

Other recent studies have demonstrated positive correlations among the reduction in outdoor time and the increase in children possessing vitamin D deficiency (Huh & Gordon, 2008) and myopia (Rose et al., 2008).  Jane Clark, a University of Maryland professor of kinesiology calls the present generation of children “containerized kids”.  She suggests that not only are children being raised almost exclusively indoors, but are confined to small spaces for a majority of early development. Baby bouncers, Pack N Plays, and baby seats serve as convenient babysitters when placed in close proximity to a television. In limited outdoor time, toddlers are often placed in containers like strollers or wagons and pushed along. This leaves little room for exploration or actual outdoor play.

 
12233447_404756273061869_526008269_nWith copious amounts of empirical data testifying to the ramifications of nature-deficit disorder, and an urban landscape making opportunities for connecting with nature scarce, it is crucial that we find creative solutions to combating this disease.  Zoological facilities offer the perfect outlet and are often
nestled in large cities where the need for nature is the greatest. Zoos offer a platform for children to safely investigate not only native habitats but also re-creations of
various global terrains. Families are encouraged to hike through mist-filled jungles to view primates, ride in a jeep busch-gardens-tampa-2013-rhino-rally-10through a replica of the African plains, or float in a riverboat through the Amazon. The possibilities for discovery are endless! Close-up encounters with animal ambassadors offer unique sensory experiences while walking through exotic habitats encourage imaginative play like photo safaris.  Zoos hold the key for children to engage in meaningful ways with nature, highlighting yet another reason as to why zoos matter so much!

 

myactionsSeaWorld Parks & Entertainment took this mission a step further with the development of the seaworld.myactions.org program. With this interactive website, youth are encouraged to share their adventures and conservation efforts.  Participants are encouraged to log visits to playgrounds, zoos, aquariums, and national parks where they can upload photos and share their outdoor journeys.  Other areas of the program allow for logging and tracking different forms of outdoor play and teach kids how to effectively build outdoor habitats within the confines of their own backyards. The MyActions program also includes components that teach families simple methods of composting, planting gardens in limited spaces, and organizing local beach/park/lake cleanups.  For the more competitive kids, the website possesses a plethora of challenges that target hot topics in animal conservation. Each challenge requires specific tasks to be completed to earn a badge. Regardless of one’s geographical location, culture, or age, this program is adoptable. In a stroke of genius, this zoo franchise has learned how to harness the power of social media to encourage families and children to get back outdoors! With an intrinsic positive support system and a library of feasible activities, passion for nature can be reborn!

 

 

–See also —

Huh, S. Y., & Gordon, C. M. (2008). Vitamin D deficiency in children and adolescents: Epidemiology, impact, and treatment. Reviews in Endocrine and Metabolic Disorders, 9(2), 161–170.

Kuo, F. E., & Taylor, A. F. (2004). A potential natural treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: Evidence from a national study. American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580–1586.

Lieberman, G. A., & Hoody, L. L. (1998). Closing the achievement gap: Using the environment as an integrating context for learning. Poway, CA: Science Wizards.

Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Algonquin Books.

Rose, K. A., Morgan, I. G., Ip, J., Kifley, A., Huynh, S., Smith, W., et al. (2008). Outdoor activity reduces the prevalence of myopia in children.Ophthalmology, 115(8), 1279–1285.

Science Daily. (2008, October 29). Neighborhood greenness has long-term positive impact on kids’ health. Available:www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081028074327.htm

Sobel, D. (2008). Children and nature: Design principles for educators. Portland, ME: Stenhouse




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