The "Deficit disorder of nature" is a term coined by Richard Louv with which he describes how human beings, especially children, spend less and less time outdoors, and this progressive alienation from the natural world is resulting in a wide range of psychological and behavioral problems.
Louv affirms that the causes of the phenomenon include parents' fears, restricted access to natural areas and screens appeal. Recent research has related the decreased in number of visits to parks to the increase in the use of electronic media by children.
Although technology has become a leisure activity, Internet, television, movies, video games, mobile phones, tablets and other technological devices produce a sensory overload, reducing interpersonal contacts and daily physical exercise.
There are numerous international movements working in favor of this reconnection of children and nature, with programs that promote active environmental education developed outdoors. In this direction, the imagery method relies on the children integration with the environment, not theoretical, but practical, locating most learning activities outdoors.
Enclosed areas accumulate positive ions that can produce headaches, nervousness and discomfort. On the contrary, open spaces, especially in contact with water, have more negative ions, which benefit health and mood. Going out to explore the natural environment accentuates our curiosity. Analyzing the senses of animals, such as the ear of deer, the sight of owls, the smell of dogs, helps becoming aware of our own sensory abilities, and therefore, exercising and improving them.
For children, nature is an amusement park, excellent medicine and a learning classroom. Contact with nature improves health, attention abilities, motor and cognitive development, autonomy, security and acquisition of values. Helping them discover their true passions and learn with and from the natural world is key for children. Different studies conclude that outdoor activities have a favorable impact on the reduction of disorders such as attention deficit, obesity, stress, chronic fatigue, myopia and depression.
It is easy to work tolerance to frustration outdoors - if it rains you get wet and you hold on; if you stumble or you are tired while you are in the forest you have to endure and continue-, but also empathy and respect through contact with animals and plants, or the serenity and calm that observation and contemplation demand; many skills are developed easily and naturally .
- Mari Luz Díaz, Director of the Huerto Alegre farm school, Granada, Spain
Unstructured play is also vital to our mental and emotional health. Therefore, giving them space and autonomy to create their own games and imaginative activities, preferably using easily available natural elements such as sticks, dirt, water and rocks is a fundamental part of their cognitive development.
Finding yourself in an open space, with a feeling of freedom and the ability to move freely and observe the processes that occur, is fundamental for the development of motor skills but also a stimulus for the neurons, for the emotions and for the learning process.
It is easy to find in Nature the mystery of natural harmony, beyond our limits of understanding, which nurtures our curiosity and shapes our inquisitive spirit. Nature offers a complete sensory experience: you can touch, smell, see, hear, taste and feel.
Those who come from the city arrive very nervous, accelerated, running around, talking very loudly, they cannot stop moving and want to see everything quickly, as if they were running out of time. Often they do not dare to enter in the forest, or will not sit on the floor to avoid getting dirty, complaining if there are stones on the road or if it rains, because they think everything has to fit their own interests. Soon they become more calm and serene, more independent, with fewer fears and more integrated with the rest of the world.
- Cristina Gutierrez, Director of Santa Maria de Palautordera school farm, Barcelona, Spain.
Students enter the natural environment and learn to value, respect and appreciate it, establishing emotional ties with nature and living beings while developing feelings of respect and responsibility with the protection of the environment.
Natural spaces become a great pedagogical resource to educate the perception abilities and to learn how to discriminate, categorize and organize information. These learning fieldwork techniques will ultimately lay the foundations of scientific research for them.
And how do we facilitate this interaction?
- Perform all activities outdoors, whenever possible
- Horticulture in the garden, planting, maintenance and collection
- Excursions in search of insects and animals through wild areas nearby
- Observational exercises, information gathering, analysis and experimentation