“Nature Deficit Disorder”

The Great Outdoors – How We’re Getting Preschool Children Out Into Nature

by Kim Bone, Group Curriculum Manager/Mentor, Chrysalis Group of Early Learning Centres

Many adults and children in today’s society, all the way from preschool to retirement age, have something in common – we all have difficulty getting outside enough. When was the last time that you went outside into nature, near your house?  How long did you spend there?  What did you find?  Many adults and children alike would probably need to think about that for some time, whilst some may have been fortunate enough to have had a break over the holidays living and playing in nature and still shaking the sand out of your towel.

Popular recommended childcare for kids in a forest kindy and getting the best start near East Tamaki, Manurewa, Botanic Gardens, Wiri, Manukau, Pakuranga, Pukekohe, Takanini, Botany

Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the separation between humans and nature

Today, everyone seems to be engrossed in being attached to some sort of ‘device’.  We use it to research a recipe for the leftover food in the fridge, to connect with friends and family, make dentist appointments or to book movie tickets.  It is also our calculator, alarm clock, and personal organiser/calendar.  I could fill pages with what a ‘device’ is good for.  But have you thought about what it’s not so good for?

Many children and adults are currently suffering from a condition referred to by the term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’. Maybe you have experienced it in the past or maybe you will experience in the future.  This term was created by journalist and childhood advocate Richard Louv and is discussed in his book: ‘Last Child in the Woods’+.  This is not a scientific term, but one coined to describe what Louv identified is happening in society.  This condition is both a mental and physical condition.  Research has linked it to Vitamin D deficiency, increasing obesity statistics and high rates of anxiety in both young and old. Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the separation between humans and nature.

So how did it come about?  With increased urbanisation many communities have very little green spaces to use.  Public play areas are also becoming ‘watered-down’ areas of play due to Health and Safety compliance.  Many parents have safety concerns about their children playing outside or in nature by themselves with the risk of who maybe ‘lurking in the bushes’. Some early learning centres have lost the value of spending time outdoors and kids aren’t getting enough outdoor time in their home hours either.

There are huge benefits from being outside namely physical, mental and spiritual health and well-being.  In 2018, researchers from the University of East Anglia, Norwich Medical School, collated over 140 studies covering 290 million people across 20 countries, and revealed that repeated and long term exposure to greenspaces reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, stress, high blood pressure among other health benefits++. And intuitively, who doesn’t feel any immediate positive effects in nature? Being outside in nature actually makes us happier and more energised.  Being in nature gives us inspiration and makes us more creative. It relaxes and triggers deep reflections and thinking.

Being outside in nature actually makes us happier and more energised

Nature contributes in developing problem solving and critical thinking skills…

Children gain inspiration and confidence to make up their own games with their own rules when they have time and space.  Nature contributes in developing problem solving and critical thinking skills in a ‘play-based’ and ‘place-based’ learning environment.  It also allows you to connect with friends and family, build on relationships and develop closer bonds.

So how can we fix it?  Thankfully we can reverse the symptoms of Nature Deficit Disorder with some simple ideas that you can do today, this weekend, or next month.  Start off small by going outside and taking a walk after dinner in your local neighbourhood.  Visit the local park and take a picnic lunch during the weekend.  Visit the beach to collect shells, go for a bush walk or throw stones into a lake. These are simple (and free) things to do with your family.

 …the more high-tech we become in society, the more we need nature to balance this…

At Chrysalis (in Avondale), Magic Kingdom (in Blockhouse Bay), Fern Garden (in Tauranga), Milky Way (in the CBD) and Gaia-Earth Forest Preschool (in Manurewa, near Botanic Gardens), we believe the more high-tech we become in society, the more we need nature to balance this.  Richard Louv warns that we need to move away from a ‘Blade Runner’ (a 1982 Hollywood Sci-Fi movie set in the future) image of what we could become.  Nature is a gift that needs to be cherished.  We need everyone, young and old, to “learn from it, within it and not just simply about it”+++. There is a saying: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices’.  So, take some time to live outside and feel the effects of 4.6 billion years of Earth’s research and development on you!

If you value the benefits that spending time outdoors can have on your preschool child, and want to enrol in an early learning centre that shares these values, contact us to talk about enrolling your child in one of our centres in Auckland Central, Tauranga, Auckland West, Auckland CBD and Auckland South.


+Louv R. (2005), Last Child in the Woods, Workman Publishing, New York


+++ Singh D., Singh N. (2018), Gaia Education Principle, A Journey Back to the Future, International Conference for Future Learning

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