Nature Deficit Disorder…
What Does it Imply?
Children growing up in cities are missing out on a very fundamental experience that can shape the way they will eventually come to perceive the world in the future. According to some studies, with very little exposure to nature, city children especially, can be missing out on the opportunity to connect with nature in developmentally important ways. Children need to play with dirt, not only to build resistance to germs and as an opportunity to socialize with friends, but as a way to build a personal relationship with the planet. This interaction will foster a desire to be proactive in issues of conservation and sustainability. Richard Louv who was the one to originally coin the word nature-deficit disorder in his book Last Child in the Woods to refer to the disconnection with nature of the last two decades says; “Imagine a world in which all children grow up with a deep understanding of the world around them.” Those words stem from this author’s own hope for a greener future.
This is all too important to dismiss as idle. Today’s children carry a great weight over their shoulders as the earth continues to show signs of being in peril. If we don’t teach our young children a real love of nature now, children may grow up to simply not care. At this point in time, we cannot even afford the thought. Time is running out, and if we don’t start a plan of action now, soon the damage to the planet could prove irreversible. Not to sound like a doomsday forecaster, but the reality is our children need to know the urgency of the matter.
The Clock is Ticking
Whether we are a parent raising little ones, or a teacher at a school, children must be made to understand that although our planet still is a beautiful place, and holds a unique place among the stars (the only planet we know is beaming with life), it is being severely depleted of its precious resources at an ever alarming rate. We must awaken our children’s senses to the dismal issues of global warming, deforestation, endangered species, and pollution. We cannot hide these things from our children just because we think they are too profound, nor should we try. Children have a right to know what’s really going on in this world; it is their world.
As a preschool teacher, I’m always thinking of ways to implement important global issues into our curriculum. For instance, we have different themes throughout the year covering many different subjects, but no matter what theme we explore we always make sure we weave in awareness to global environmental issues. So for instance, if our theme for the month is farm animals, besides learning and talking up a storm about all the different animals in a farm, we also address the issues that these animals may face in modern day farms:, animals living in tightly enclosed living quarters with other animals, and the propagation of livestock disease in these terribly unhealthy environments. We then ask children open-ended questions; “so what do you think people can do to help cows live better, healthier lives? We also have many activities that reinforces awareness to global environmental issues.
Grabbing the Bull by Its Horns
The beast of environmental disaster can only be tamed through education. Children will develop their own relationship with mother nature, as so long as they are taught and exposed to the elements in nature. Taking them to a park often, if you don’t have a backyard, is a very good way to awaken in them the desire to protect, and an appreciation for their delicate world. Let them run, roll in the dirt, and pick some flowers. Strike conversations with children that will spark their interest on the little critters crawling or flying by. Let them know the very important roles these creatures play in the chain of life. Read books with them that emphasize the variety of species in the animal and flora kingdoms, and the varied geological features of the planet. Teach them to be respectful, and considerate of all creatures and their natural habitats. If there is a pond nearby, stop by at times, and point out the way in which natural sources of water are becoming significantly dirtier because of the problem of pollution. Ask open-ended questions that will make them ponder. Even walking through a city block, we can pause to observe the plight of a dandelion pushing its way through a crack on a sidewalk. Seemingly insignificant events like these can serve as eye-openers, and as opportunities to talk to children about the dire effects of urbanization, and deforestation.
These topics will not scare your children as much as it will help them think of ways to contribute to the conservation of the planet in the near future. Children are very imaginative, and their creativity can often spark up ideas that may impress even the most insightful adult. Remember, if your child is only five or six years old, it will only be about ten or eleven more years before your child can leave his own footprint, and contribute significantly to the well-being of the planet, perhaps by becoming a volunteer in a wildlife refuge, or an advocate for nature conservancy. We can also help our children to be scientifically inclined,. Doing simple science experiments together can help sharpen their critical thinking skills.. A simple experiment like dipping a chalk in a cup of water, while dipping another in vinegar, is a great way to help children visualize the detrimental effects of acid rain on forest trees.
There is no doubt that our children will be inheriting an earth very different from the one we know. Thomas Berry, author of the book The Dream of the Earth (Sierra Club Books, 1988), put it this way: “We might summarize our present human situation by the simple statement: that in the 20th century, the glory of the human has become the desolation of the Earth and now the desolation of the Earth is becoming the destiny of the human. The time to inculcate love for mother earth is today. Scientist are weary of what the future holds, and feel that even tomorrow may be too late to reverse all the damage of these last two centuries. A native American proverb says, “we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” One of the best ways to teach our children that we genuinely care for their future, is by inculcating in them today, a deep love and respect for nature.
Monique Rodriguez is a childcare specialist, and author of the book Making Sense of Children’s Senses. You can contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org