As I write this on a cold but bright December day, my three children are all at home from school with sickness bugs. The coughing, sneezing and sniffing sounds have been reverberating around the house for the last few days, and cabin fever is setting in.
With a little gentle persuasion, I managed to convince them to leave the house to take our dog for a walk around the farm. This was met with moans about aching joints and running noses, as they pulled their wellies on over their pyjamas, but eventually we ventured outside into the cool, fresh air.
When I asked if they felt better for being outside, my six year old piped up and said, “Yes, a bit better. There are trees outside and they give us oxygen. If we don’t go outside then we will die.” His answer was of course quite extreme, but what if the repercussions of not being outside were truly detrimental to our health?
Last week, I attended a CEVAS (Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme) course, and the term Nature Deficit Disorder came into discussion. “Our children”, according to author Richard Louv, “are the first generation to be raised without meaningful contact with the natural world.” Quite a statement, and one that is worryingly accurate if we consider the amount of time that our children spend in front of screens. Even with a farm outside our front door, my own children are still moths to a flame when it comes to screens.
Louv’s book The Last Child in the Woods shows how today’s children are missing out on the pleasures of a free-range childhood, with so many indoor based activities, and educational demands, which are contributing to a whole spectrum of health issues. UK statistics show that nearly a third of children aged 2-15 are overweight or obese, and mental health issues in children are on the rise, with depression and anxiety now worryingly common in pre-teens. It would appear that my six year old is right. Nature is nurture, and our current generation of children are nature deficient.
The course was an interesting one, with plenty of networking with like-minded farm owners and smallholders, sharing our ideas on care farming, and the therapeutic and educational opportunities we aspire to provide within our own green spaces. ‘Green care’ is another term that refers to the connection between nature and health, with increasing evidence to show that both animal assisted therapies and horticulture can assist with a wide range of health disorders, in both children and adults.
Although my three children have been rather nature deficient over the last few days, I do know that they are incredibly fortunate to have such easy access to a ‘nature-rich life’. A childhood of unstructured outdoor play; climbing trees, building dens, analysing owl pellets and fishing in the pond, everything that memories of childhood should be.
Screens and technology absolutely have their place in our modern world (we would be lost without them), but we all need to consider the amazing benefits to our own minds and well-being, by just stepping out of the front door into the incredible world outside.
“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” – Albert Einstein