Why We Must Reconnect With Nature

by |May 26, 2011

Photo credit: Jos van Wunnik

“I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” said a young boy in Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. But since Richard Louv’s book came out in 2005, examining how disconnected children are from nature, both children and adults have only gotten more hooked on digital gadgets and technology. The problem is that as we spend more time in the electronic world, we are spending less in the natural one. If we lose our connection with nature, what might it mean for our planet?

As of 2009, 93% of teens and 77% of adults were online, according to a Pew Internet Project Report. Kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day, 7 days a week, plugged into computers, TV, video games, music, cells phones, etc. reported a Kaiser Family Foundation Study. An internet security company investigation found that more very young children can play a computer game and open a web browser than swim or ride a bike. Meanwhile there has been a steady decline in visits to U.S. national parks, and a drop in hiking, camping, fishing and hunting.

Today many children and adults suffer from what Richard Louv calls “nature-deficit disorder”— reduced awareness and a diminished ability to find meaning in the life around us. Children no longer have the opportunity to play freely in nature, exploring woods or wading in a stream, and there are fewer natural areas that are accessible. Children’s time is structured, their lives more protected as parents worry about stranger danger, and insect borne diseases and germs. And schools are increasingly cutting back on recess and field trips.

Photo credit: Rich Gibson

Yet research shows that there are important positive correlations between human health, intelligence and nature. Studies reveal that children are healthier, happier, and perhaps even smarter and more creative when they have a connection to nature. Nature has positive effects on children with attention deficit disorder, asthma, and obesity, and being in nature relieves stress and improves physical health. Adults who work in spaces incorporating nature into their design are more productive, healthy and creative; and hospital patients with a view of nature from their window heal faster.

Our definition of nature needs to be broader. We need to get away from the idea that nature is “out there,” that it’s something you have to go visit, and rethink nature’s role in our cities, stressed Louv in an interview about his new book about adults, The Nature Principal: Human Restoration And The End Of The Nature Deficit Disorder. With over half the world’s population now living in cities, we are facing either the end of meaningful experiences in nature, or the beginning of new kinds of cities and a new definition of nature. According to Louv, conservation is no longer enough—we must also restore or create natural habitats on our farms and ranches, in our cities, neighborhoods, commercial buildings, yards, and on our roofs, to protect the biodiversity that all living creatures, including humans, need.

E.O. Wilson, the renowned biologist, believes that we are hard wired with an innate affinity for nature, a hypothesis he calls biophilia. But research shows that if children do not have the opportunity to explore and develop that biophilia during their early years, biophobia, an aversion to nature, may take its place. Biophobia can range from a fear of being in nature, to contempt for what is not man-made and managed, to an attitude that nature is nothing more than a disposable resource.

If we want to protect our environment and biodiversity, creating opportunities to reconnect with nature is crucial for both children and adults. We need to spend more time unplugged and find ways to let nature balance our lives.

Photo credit: Steve Guttman

Find small openings for nature every day, whether in the country or the city—at home, in the work place, in schools and in neighborhoods. Plant native species in your backyard and leave part of it wild, take kids fishing and hiking, build a bird feeder or go bird watching, walk in the park, ride a bike, set up a community garden, have a picnic, or exercise outdoors.

Photo credit: Bill Lynch

The Children & Nature Network supports those working to reconnect children with nature through education, urban design, architecture, conservation, public health and many other disciplines. The website is a rich resource for regional programs, with nature-based ideas and tools for teachers and families, activities, and events.

President Obama recognizes the importance of reconnecting with nature. In April 2010, he launched America’s Great Outdoors Initiative to promote conservation and recreation, based on the idea that “lasting conservation solutions should rise from the American people.”  The America’s Great Outdoors Report, released in February, lays out goals to develop conservation jobs and service opportunities, such as a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps, and supports programs that help kids reconnect with nature and engage young people in conservation. The initiative also seeks to strengthen land and water conservation, establish great urban parks, and preserve natural areas.

“In the end, the fate of biodiversity and ecosystems depends on political choices and individual choices…” wrote Peter Kareiva, the chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. “If people never experience nature and have negligible understanding of the services that nature provides, it is unlikely people will choose a sustainable future.” Indeed, most environmentalists and conservationists had profound experiences with nature as children that helped shape their future aspirations.

We must make sure the next generation also has the opportunity to have meaningful encounters with nature, because they cannot grow to love nature if they do not experience it.  If children lose their love of nature, who will be the environmental stewards of the future?

Richard Louv concluded,” The natural world’s benefits to our condition and health will be irrelevant if we continue to destroy the nature around us. But that destruction is assured without a human reconnection to nature.”


11 thoughts on “Why We Must Reconnect With Nature

  1. Great piece. I’m personally counting on a trip to Scotland this summer to be an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Why do I feel I have to wait for a foreign vacation to do that?

  2. Renee Cho Renee Cho says:

    You don’t – there are Morningside and Riverside Parks right nearby!

  3. Shawn says:

    If only things could be so simple again, as they were only forty years ago. That’s all we wanted to do growing up is be outside! Scouts of America is good for being closer to Nature!

  4. Mike says:

    The first time I was awakened to this ‘dilemma’ was when (myself having grown up in a rural part of the city) the kids ran into the house saying “Dad, dad, we saw a squirrel… a wild animal!” I thought… OK, we’ve got to broaden their horizons a bit. Since then we’ve had urban chickens, quail, homing pigeons and bred rabbits… all WONDERFUL activities that the kids have been involved with. Funny though, that today I read your article and when I came home from work, they had rescued a fledgling Downy Woodpecker that was hobbling around under the porch with a wing issue. They connected to nature yet again. I LOVE it!

  5. Linda Keane says:

    Richard Louv’s book struck a chord with many of us who are raising families and who work designing the designed environment. I grew up with plastic plants and boulders as landscape for gas stations. Fortunately there were still trees and prairies and the sky and the call of the birds and the seasons to distract. Thanks for sharing this. L

  6. Aparate Foto says:

    I hope this article will give people something to think about. If at least five of them will get the initiative to reconnect with nature (in any way) you should be proud for being able to inspire people.
    I love the pictures, too!

  7. Fly Shop says:

    Love the pictures too by the way! Lovely shot of the river. I have some fly fishing pics I could share if you want for the next blog. Email me

  8. Renee Cho Renee says:

    I don’t have any immediate need for fly fishing pics, but I’ll contact you if I do. Thank you Fly Shop.

  9. Aparate foto says:

    I hope this article will give people something to think about. If at least five of them will get the initiative to reconnect with nature (in any way) you should be proud for being able to inspire people.
    Love the pictures too by the way! Lovely shot of the river. I have some fly fishing pics I could share if you want for the next blog. Email me

  10. Nicole says:

    Reconnecting with nature is essential to the our health moving forward. The benefits are immeasurable and numerous.. I just began a blog sharing some of my writing about nature and it’s benefits.. I’d love some interaction and feedback. Check me out at-
    http://www.natureasteacher.blogspot.com

    Richard was just in St Louis speaking.. It was such a privilege!

    “Our souls restoration to nature is the beginning of our pathway to health”

  11. Children and nature are our future, let´s learn our children to appreciate our beautiful environment!

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