In a previousÂ I focused on the negative impact that a lack of exposure to nature can have on children. I also profiled some research that showed dramatic increases in the ability of children to concentrate after they took a walk in a natural setting. It is an undisputable fact, although not one widely recognised in our society, that outdoor play should be one of the cornerstones of a child’s education. This recognition forms the basis of the â€˜No Child Left Insideâ€™ initiative.
The recommendations that form the basis of â€˜No Child Left Insideâ€™ are not revolutionary but rather a restatement of â€˜back to basicsâ€™ principles that we ignore at our peril. The suggestions below may help you to get these foundational principles right:
Analyse your current situation: People living in urban and suburban areas can sometimes go for weeks without any meaningful interaction with nature. Recognising this fact and determining that you will do something about it is the first step towards re-engagement with the natural world. Begin by analysing whether â€˜nature deficit disorderâ€™ is indeed a factor in your life. This is normally not too difficult. The challenging part is to develop a strategy to counteract this deficit (if it does indeed exist). Most people would say that any â€˜nature deficitâ€™ that may exist can be traced back to 1) Lack of time and 2) Lack of access (real or perceived) to natural environments. Any â€˜re-engagement strategyâ€™ should therefore address these areas.
Start with â€˜baby stepsâ€™: Getting a bit more nature in your life (and that of your children) need not be a monumental undertaking. Most people can dramatically increase their exposure to the natural environment by making just a few simple changes to their lifestyles e.g.:
â€¢Â Â Â Find a nearby park and see if you cannot include it on your route to/from school/work (while walking or cycling of course). A 10 minute detour along a â€˜road less travelled byâ€™ can sometimes make a world of difference!
â€¢Â Â Â Get a dog! The fact that your new â€˜best friendâ€™ will require regular walks will â€˜force youâ€™ (in a good way of course!) to get out more.
â€¢Â Â Â Scout out your local area. Most people live within striking distance of a nature reserve or other natural area. A simple Google search should confirm this fact if you wonder whether it is true in your case!Â Moving some of your leisure activities to such areas (e.g. meeting friends at a nature reserve instead of the local coffee shop) is an easy and often inexpensive way to increase your â€˜natural exposureâ€™
â€¢Â Â Â Make nature part of your vacation planning. The most obvious way to do this would be to go on regular camping trips. I recognise that this is not everybodyâ€™s cup of tea (or mug of black coffee more likely!) but non-campers can still include visits to National Parks or other natural attractions in their holiday planning without necessarily â€˜roughing itâ€™.
Link up with local nature groups: Unless you live in a very small town (in which case lack of exposure to nature is perhaps not such a big problem) you will normally have easy access to groups and activities dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of nature. Many such groups organise fun activities (e.g. â€˜night stalksâ€™, nature sleepovers, guided hikes etc.) that will delight and excite even the most dedicated couch potatoes. A list of â€˜No Child Left Insideâ€™ coalition members offering environmental education initiatives can be found here.
Combine nature and technology: Many children (especially older ones) will respond to calls for more â€˜nature timeâ€™ with claims that they have much more â€˜excitingâ€™ things to do. One of the best ways to counter this is to introduce them to the sport of Geocaching. Geocaching is the perfect way for combining a love for nature with a passion for modern technology. The object of the game is to find hidden objects (caches) with the aid of a GPS receiver. Participants can find caches to hunt on the internet and can also share their experiences with other users. Those with a competitive streak can even compete with other geocachers by trying to â€˜outfindâ€™ them. The fact that the vast majority of geocaches are hidden in natural areas means that you cannot really participate in the sport without getting hefty doses of â€˜outside exposureâ€™. Participants will also find levels of â€˜real worldâ€™ excitement, suspense and skills development that no video game can even come close to matching. Click here for more information about Geocaching.
It must be emphasised that the strategies profiled in this article should not be seen as â€˜magic bulletsâ€™ that will automatically solve all attention problems. They will, however, go some way towards addressing the â€˜nature deficitâ€™ that has such a negative influence on modern life. They may also in the process dramatically improve attention â€“ In the most natural way imaginable!