Helping Your Child Succeed—Naturally

Originally posted on September 26, 2017, by Kelly Stevenson, Upper School science teacher (Grades 4-12)

Over the summer, a number of LCA faculty were lucky enough to get to hear Richard Louv speak when he came to town. Louv’s national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, introduced people to the idea of Nature-Deficit Disorder in 2005. In this work, Louv brought together many sources that indicate that most children today (and adults, for that matter) are suffering from a lack of exposure to nature in their everyday lives. There have been many studies that show increases in both psychological and physical health associated with time spent in natural settings. Being outside in natural settings can lower stress, increase attention and focus, exercise multiple senses, and stimulate many diverse areas of the brain. All of these things lead to better learning as well as happier, healthier people, so it seems like a logical cause for educators to take up.

And some educators have. Since the publication of Last Child in the Woods, many people have made a point to have children spend more time in nature. In the last ten years, with this increased awareness, there has been much more research on the topic. This research has lent even more support to Louv’s thesis. Schools based on his ideas, in which children spend significant time in nature, have higher test scores than comparable schools—despite the apparent loss of “instructional time.”

One of the biggest areas of improvement when children spend time in nature is creativity: children spending unstructured time outside are much more creative in their play, and there are indications that this creativity carries over into other aspects of their lives as they grow. One study demonstrated that children playing in a more natural, less planned environment are more likely to play with other children who do not look like them than children in a more structured playground environment. There was also a noted decrease in the amount of bullying found in the natural setting. The Richard Louv event I attended was geared toward families, so there was a wide range of ages represented. While the adults sat under a tent and listened to Louv talk about these studies, behind him, a diverse group of children who had never met each other before were running around, unknowingly making his point even more eloquently than he. Their play was creative, physically active, and engaging. I never heard a single tear shed through the whole evening, though there were certainly plenty of squeals of laughter and joy.

All of us who listened to Richard Louv are newly energized to apply what we learned at LCA. We want to continue to incorporate more experience in nature into our school days, and invite you as families to join us in making sure that our children do not grow up with Nature-Deficit Disorder. In small ways, we have already begun this transformation. More students are enrolled in PE this year. During our daily recess, students get free time outside. We have also added a bit of time on Friday afternoons in which 4th and 5th graders will get some explicit “nature time.” This could include a nature hike, using natural materials in an art project, or games that take place in nature as well as demonstrate aspects of how nature works. Many of the ideas will come from Richard Louv’s newest book, Vitamin N, which is a great resource if you are interested in finding ways to incorporate more time in nature with your family. I look forward to taking some time to reconnect with nature myself, as well as seeing it anew through the eyes of these interested young students this year.

Richard Louv’s books:

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder: This book lays out the case that children are suffering from their lack of exposure to nature and why that is important, as well as what we can do about it. Apparently, the newest addition has much more information added.

The Nature Principle: Reconnecting with Life in a Virtual Age: This book focuses on the importance of relating to the natural world for adults, businesses, and society. He calls for a “nature-balanced existence” that will allow both humanity and the earth to thrive.

Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life: This is a guidebook to ways connect with nature, chock full of ideas of things you can do to get more nature in your life.