Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do you have Nature Deficit Disorder?

I found this little guy when ripping out my zucchini plants this morning. I quickly called the kids over to take a look, because toads are a rarity in my yard. "It's so dry here," I thought as a wondered why I have only found a couple throughout the nine years that I've lived in this house.

Each time the kids reached out to poke him, he'd take a little hop, and my one-year-old would squeal happily. Poke. Hop. Squeal. Poke. Hop. Squeal. I sat on the bench in the potager and thought about how when I was a kid, I'd see toads all the time. My brother and I would collect cute baby toads from a nearby pond, fresh with their new legs, and create a habitat for them with a bucket full of dirt, water, grass and leaves.

Funny thing is, maybe my yard is dry (I've got a lot of dry shade in the back, and dry full sun in the front), but it's likely that it's not the frogs that are gone. It was me! I grew up, went to school, worked and travelled a lot, and was out of nature pretty much all the time.

I don't want this to happen to my kids. I'd love them to persue environmentally-based careers (in fact, my daughter is already on the right track; she wants to be a "dog babysitter" when she grows up). After reading Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principal, I learned that parental "stranger danger" type fears, TV, and lack of access to natural areas can cause what he has termed "nature deficit disorder." He claims this can cause a number of behavioral problems. I see hints of it myself with my own kids. They are more engaged in play when it's nature-based, and seem to have a longer attention span during outdoor activities compared with indoor play. Even indoor play involving outdoor items (story stones, art projects using leaves and sticks) outrank many of their store-bought toys.

Since having kids and starting my part-time landscape design business, I've been outside more than ever. And I've come to love the slow pace of a non-scheduled day at home, in the yard. While I used to delight over sushi lunches and after work escapades to Ann Taylor, now just a poke, hop, and squeal makes me smile.


  1. I work with children (I manage an after school program and summer camp) and see first hand how they absolutely THRIVE when given the opportunity for some outside time! Give them some seeds and a patch of dirt to plant them in and it's like you've given them a piece of heaven! And me (the grown up, manager type who sits at her stinkin desk too many hours out of the day), put me in the sunshine and my mood immediately lightens. It's like magic, AND it's free :-) Thanks for the post!

  2. You're so right, Bee Girl! I'm soaking in these days, since it will soon be cold in Chicago. Gotta dig deep to find the enthusiasm for outdoor play in the winter!