Raising children in a large city poses a unique set of rewards and challenges. There’s always something interesting to do, watch or participate in; even an afternoon exploring the city can often be the best activity. What a child misses out on, though, is a connection with nature. Living in a city offers very limited opportunities for a child to walk barefoot through the grass, or play with mud, or splash around in a body of water in a safe environment. Aside from a hour or two spent in the playground, most kids spend their time indoors.
In his book, The Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv calls this phenomenon, ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Documenting the modern family’s life over the last two decades, he points out that a connection with nature helps a child develop several, vital skills and personality traits. At Elements, we consider Louv’s book a touchstone and bible, which forms the core of our philosophy. And his findings are supported by several other studies, as well –
- It is vital for the development of multiple aspects of a child’s personality – intellect, emotions, spirituality, and physical and emotional health. Also, it supports creativity, intellectual development and problem solving (Kellert, 2005).
- Being close to nature every day increases a child’s capacity to focus, which, in turn, enhances cognitive abilities (Wells, 2000). It can also reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder in children as young as 5 (Kuo and Taylor, 2004).
- According to studies conducted in the US, students of schools that have outdoor classrooms, or that use nature-based experiential teaching methods, do better in math, science, languages and social studies. Outdoor science programs contribute to an increase of 27% in science testing scores. (American Institutes for Research, 2005).
- When children are offered more opportunities for unstructured play in natural settings, they are more physically active, of course, but they also are happier and able to get along better with their peers. It boosts their social skills and creativity (Bell and Dyment, 2006 and Burdette and Whitaker, 2005).
- Once children are made aware of the cycles of nature and how food is grown, they are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables (Bell & Dyment, 2008) and to understand nutrition better (Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2006). They are also more likely to maintain healthy eating habits throughout their lives (Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002).
- Access to green spaces, and even a view of green settings, enhances peace, self control and self-discipline within inner city youth, and particularly in girls (Taylor, Kuo and Sullivan, 2001).