Nature helps nurture kids

Rainy days should not mean kids stay indoors
Mucking around is good for kids’ physical and mental wellbeing

CHILDREN’S easy access to modern technology in today’s world is in danger of leaving them cut off from nature.

It’s always tempting for busy parents to use TV, computers and mobile devices to keep their children occupied when life is hectic. But, adults should also look to nature as a valuable resource to keep youngsters busy, active and curious.

Nature-Deficit Disorder

In my past life as a journalist I came across the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’ which was first used a decade ago by US author and journalist Richard Louv in his bestseller Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.

For me, as a parent and someone who loves the outdoors, it got me thinking about the potential impact on future generations, because Louv was warning that if children were not encouraged to be outside in nature they would become alienated from it, losing out on the opportunity to explore, learn and exercise.

It follows the age-old belief that getting mucky is good for kids’ mental and physical wellbeing, while helping instil a love of nature is a gift for life.

US author Richard Louv
US author Richard Louv

RSPB NI Survey

Last year, RSPB NI commissioned research which found that three quarters of children, aged between 8 and 12, in Northern Ireland did not feel as “connected” as they should be to the natural world.

Researchers from Queen’s University Belfast surveyed 2,400 children, asking them about their enjoyment of nature, how they felt about it, and gauging their empathy for creatures.

Their worrying findings prompted the wildlife charity to call on education officials to ensure that the school curriculum provided children with the opportunity to interact directly with nature.

Ireland’s Heritage Council

In 2010, research conducted by Ireland’s Heritage Council, involving both parents and their children, discovered a 23% decrease in children playing in fields in a generation, and a 20% drop in wild spaces, while 19% fewer played in woods. These natural amenities had been replaced by school fields, outdoor playgrounds and indoor activity centres.

Environmental charities work hard to provide youngsters with the opportunity to learn about and enjoy nature, and schools also have a role to play, but at the end of the day, it’s really up parents and guardians to make sure that the wonderful gifts provided by the natural world are not lost to a new generation.

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