Are less children experiencing outdoor environments? This article talks about why children don't play outside in today's society and due to this could be labelled with having 'nature deficit disorder' (NDD).

NDD was coined by Richard Louv (American author) in his book, 'Last Child in the Woods' to highlight the problem he sees for young children today, and for their level of experience within natural environments, locally or not.

Louv recounts his experiences with the local environment (woods, parks, rivers fields and forests) when he was young, to which his son asked him, 'why were things more fun when you were a child?'. This seems to imply that his children did not experience the natural environment as he did. It also does not explain why they were not encouraged to experience the local environment, and play in it.

Further to his realisation from conversations with his son, he illustrates (within the book) his concerns byway of an advertisement for a new sport utility vehicle (SUV) shown traversing around a woodland with young children in the passenger seats, playing games on iPads, without paying any attention to the natural environment.

He suggests that one of the reasons for the current rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression is due to the lack of early contact with the natural environment, whether it be local or further afield.

In order to explain why the current generations lack the involvement with the natural environment, he asked a select number of children why they do not use natural spaces.

Their reasons were:

  • lack of time
  • television, computers and games consoles
  • lack of natural space close by to their homes
  • parental concerns with child safety

It is suggested that due to an increase in health and safety awareness and the access to media, children are unlikely to be either encouraged or allowed by their families to wander into the local natural environment.

It is felt that families should be made aware of the problem, either through the media or through their individual schools, and encouraged to work with schools to introduce children back to this necessary resource.

Help Reduce NDD Cases

Stephen Moss, BBC producer of Springwatch, created a report for the National Trust as a follow up report into NDD, which explains the clear changes that are happening within society, as children are staying in more and not playing outside.

Read about this report: Natural Childhood

Technology (screen-based entertainment) could be looked at as the main issue to why children don't go outside, yet another issue has the potential for being the real reason why children are becoming closer to the coined term (NDD), which is said by Richard Louv in his book as ‘well-meaning, protective house arrest'. All families operate differently and they have their own struggles to overcome. By being conscious of NDD and not reluctant to understand the term, will create a better foundation in helping our children stay connected to nature. By having families and schools equally sharing this responsibility, will help reduce the rise of NDD cases.

Schools need to provide:

  • more opportunities within the curriculum to focus on outdoor learning (using the natural environment to instil experiences solidifying their learning)
  • holistic approaches to encourage natural curiosity (engaging with nature)
  • unstructured play (time for children to independently learn how to explore and play in nature)
  • more low budget residential trips or day trips
  • outdoor spaces within school grounds (allowing children to explore and develop in a natural environment)  
  • opportunities for families to ‘come and play’ (help them understand the importance to being in and around nature)
  • projects that will support children to get outside (walk to school projects)
  • resources and advice to families (helping them continue outdoor learning at home)

Families need to help their children:

What Does Our Future Hold?

The British government will be helping schools and families take on this huge responsibility, as they have put in place a 25 Year Environment Plan to connect everyone to the environment in order to help improve health and well-being and encourage them to take action in improving the natural world.

If you are interested in ideas to get outside, then take a look at our nature-based activities.