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A Childminder’s Guide to Nature Deficit Disorder

By Guest Blogger Ruth Snowden 18/06/2022

Did you know – Forest Childcare can help to prevent Nature Deficit Disorder!

But what is Nature Deficit Disorder? It’s not an officially recognised medical condition – author Richard Louv came up with the idea in 2005, in his book ‘Last Child in the Woods’, in which he talks about the need for children to re-connect with the natural world. So what are the symptoms to look out for when children are suffering from a nature deficit?

Negative changes in behaviour

Most people who look after small children know that one brilliant way to calm overexcited or overwrought little ones is to release them out of doors. This allows them to shout and run about, generally letting off steam. It has recently been found that children with ADHD often benefit from out door play.

Sensory issues

Outside there are many different sounds, smells, things to look at and feel, changes in light and temperature – and the eyes and ears get used to noticing things much further away. Indoors it’s a different story – for example too much screen time can damage children’s eyesight.

Photo by Emily Grey. Find her on Instagram @emilycaitlanmedia

Loss of physical abilities and increased rate of physical illness

Outdoor play helps children to acquire strength, balance and coordination, not to mention keeping them slim! And contact with outdoor things, such as earth, plants and trees helps them to build up beneficial bacteria in their ‘gut flora’, which makes their immune system stronger. There are many other physical outdoor benefits too – for example our bodies need sunshine in order to make vitamin D.

Damage to mental and emotional health

There are probably lots of factors involved here – such as many of the ones mentioned above, plus social isolation and lack of interaction in the ‘real world’. It’s also possible that all the electrical gadgets and screens in our homes are affecting children negatively. We don’t yet know how much they may be affecting both physical and mental heath.

Inability to assess risks and figure stuff out for oneself.

In addition to all the outdoor benefits already mentioned, children need time for challenges, interests and physical activities that are not constantly structured and monitored by adults. This helps them to become independent and think for themselves. Unfortunately many children today spend far less free time outdoors than their parents would have done. TV and video games and social media are partly responsible for this trend. Yet, interestingly, many children say that they would like to spend more time outdoors if they were allowed.

Parents, childcare providers and society as a whole worry so much about safety issues such as traffic and strangers, that many children end up confined indoors, or in ‘safe’, restricted outdoor spaces, supervised by adults. Playing alone out of doors is often seen as dangerous. A generation ago, most children of junior school age walked to school, alone or with their friends. Nowadays many children get taken to school by car – ironically adding to the dangerous traffic on the roads.

The idea that people need contact with the natural world is not new – many parks and gardens were opened during Queen Victoria’s reign because she was concerned about conditions in the rapidly expanding towns and cities of the Industrial Revolution. This was a step in the right direction, but it was done in a way that reflected the ‘man controls nature’ attitude of the times. Lawns were mowed within an inch of their lives and ‘weeds’ had to be eliminated at all costs.

One of the positive effects of the Covid pandemic lockdowns is that people have begun to notice nature round about them more, and to realise how much being out of doors helps their mental and physical heath. This has contributed to the new trend towards rewilding, realising that ‘weeds’ are actually wild flowers and part of the ecosystem – and nature studies have recently become part of the National Curriculum.

Forest Childcare is about actively and purposely taking children to outdoor spaces. It is not possible to roll back the clock and send children out to play alone and unsupervised in wild spaces as they would have done in the past. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a real, positive effect on the children you look after by taking them on outdoor outings on a regular basis. You can give children the outings they need to counter nature deficit disorder and give them the opportunities to spend time appreciating the beauty, fun, danger and excitement of outdoor green places.

Children who are taken out of doors to play, and taught about the world of nature, are much more likely to grow up with an interest in the environment. We are not separate from the natural world – we are part of it – and we urgently need to remember this. So keep showing your children wild flowers and trees, birds and butterflies. Keep allowing them to run around, shout, climb, get wet and muddy, and generally figure stuff out for themselves. They need rewilding too – and you will be helping to save the planet as well as them!


Join the Forest Childcare Association

The Forest Childcare Association is a best practice initiative for childcare providers who want to demonstrate their commitment to taking small children outdoors on a regular basis. By making a commitment to regular outdoor outings you can make a discernible difference to your children AND your business. When you join you receive an introductory training booklet, as well as business tools, a certificate to display and a pack of 50 Crafts and Activities to get you started.

Forest Childcare can help to:

• Teach children to appreciate trees, fields, ponds and woods by spending time in the natural environment
• Improve emotional and physical wellbeing of children and the adults who look after them
• Improve children’s concentration, perseverance, cooperation and motivation skills
• Help children to stay fit and counter obesity because children move around naturally outdoors while they play
• Let off steam
• Provide opportunities for developing harmonious relationships with others, through negotiation, taking turns and cooperation
• Improve physical skills gained from opportunities to run and balance
• Build knowledge and understanding of the world
• Provide rich opportunities for imagination, inventiveness and resourcefulness

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