Do you or members of your family suffer from “Nature Deficit Disorder”?

Nature Deficit Disorder is caused by a lack of Vitamin “N” (Nature). The best treatment is to get outside, explore and have fun. When was the last time you hit the trails for a hike? If you’re at your desk right now, or reading on your smartphone, close your eyes. Imagine bright green leaves, still blue skies, the faintest breeze brushing past your face, and the smell of the wood and plants fill your nose.

There are positive impacts to our bodies from being in nature. Bacteria in soil has been known to boost levels of serotonin, which is the happiness hormone. Studies have shown that physical activity boosts levels of endorphin—especially when you’re breathing in fresh air. Outdoor activities like hiking builds stronger bones, decreases symptoms of depression, revitalizes immune systems, and invigorates the brain.

With the proliferation of technology, and the demands of modern society, children are experiencing more health and mental health issues than previous generations. At the same time, children are spending an increasing amount of time indoors, in front of screens, and less time outdoors, away from all of the health benefits that nature provides.

How can we reconnect children with nature?

In 2005, Richard Louv introduced us to the disconnect that exists between children and nature, and used the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the many physical and mental health issues that have resulted. He cited a growing body of research that indicates it is vital for humans to have direct exposure to nature if we expect them to be physically and emotionally healthy. He followed this with “The Nature Principle” in 2011, where he provided a vision of how all of us must have a strong connection with the natural world and how we can make it happen. Again various research is cited. A greater exposure to nature has been shown to have a positive impact on things like Body Mass Index, Myopia, Asthma, Childbirth and Attention Disorders among many others.

His works have been a catalyst for the growth of a network of organizations dedicated to focusing attention on and developing programs addressing the issue. They provide opportunities for children and families to engage with nature. The Children & Nature Network, the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, the Arbor Day Foundation, the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the National Trust, and many more, are working to connect children with nature through education, new policies, innovative programs, ongoing research and even how we design our communities.

In 2012 Conservation Halton began offering a program called “Amazing Things you need to do before you are 12”. It was an attempt to offer the visiting public opportunities to take part in activities that kids love to do outdoors. Children were excited about taking part in activities their parents remembered doing when they were young, and parents had the opportunity to share stories with their children. This past year it was decided to expand this idea and offer those kind of opportunities throughout the year. Planning for the ‘Family Nature Play Club’ began.

The Family Nature Play Club will offer guided exploration in the natural environment, and opportunities to have a lot of fun and get a much needed dose of Vitamin N. Catching bugs, building forts, finding nests, and flying kites are a few activities members will be able to partake in. This new program will provide families with the opportunity for unstructured nature play in a safe environment, during regularly scheduled sessions at Mountsberg Conservation Area. Unstructured nature play is essentially child-directed and allows for spontaneous learning. The club will help families address the most common barriers to getting out in nature: fear of the outdoors, logistics and lack of information.

An important feature of these nature play sessions will be allowing families, especially the children, enough time to be free, to explore, to climb, jump, observe, and even spend quiet time in the right locations. Meeting throughout the year, children and their parents will experience the natural environment in various seasons, in various weather, and at various times of day. One session each season will visit the same location in the area, so that club members can see the changes that take place there throughout the year. The dynamics of the group and the interests of each family will dictate how staff will approach leading each session. While activities may have some element of risk, as always safety will be most important.

Who can join?
Any family interested in exploring and playing outdoors can join the club. This is however a ‘family’ club, so parents are expected to attend with their children.

Where does the club meet?
The club will meet at Mountsberg Conservation Area, for a short introduction to the day, and then outside to explore and play. Existing program sites can be utilized, but the group will be free to follow their interests.

When does the club meet?
Club gatherings will take place once a month, not on a long weekend. They may start morning, afternoon or evening depending on when there is a natural phenomenon to explore. Play sessions will typically last for 2 hours.

Will there be staff to guide?
There will be staff to join each outing to provide insight into what the club members might find, such as plant and animal sightings, landscape features, and to monitor the play and exploring to remove hazards an manage any risk in the areas being explored. They will be carrying first aid kits and have communication with the Visitor Centre at all times.

The Family Nature Play Club is just one of many ways that families can get out and play and explore the natural world. Conservation Halton offers many programs and events year round at all its conservation areas. You can find one that interests you and your family by visiting the website or by calling and talking to the staff at any of the conservation areas. Hopefully you can find a good dose of Vitamin ‘N’ by visiting soon.

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Last modified: January 25, 2018

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