Editor’s pick: Reconnecting our kids with nature for healthy development

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement, the greatest source of visual beauty, the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” ~ David Attenborough, English broadcaster and naturalistGirl Dress Field

Today is Earth Day. We are reminded of the need to protect our Earth with all its wonders and beautiful resources: the majestic glaciers, magnificent oceans, captivating tall trees, vast grasslands, and all precious life forms. Today, Attachment Parenting International (API) observes the significance of our Earth and nature as a valuable resource for our children’s well-being.

Connecting with nature — spending time outdoors — provides children with the opportunity to freely engage in exploration, observation, creativity, and physical activity. It promotes the development of physical, emotional, and spiritual balance children need to flourish.

With the prevalence of electronic devices, overscheduling and the increasingly limited availability of natural settings, children nowadays have little opportunities to spend time outdoors and in nature. Television, the internet and social media are at their fingertips: They spend many hours being connected, but yet disconnected — from their natural environment.

In his 2005 book, Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder,” referring to the negative effects resulting from children spending less time outdoors. In his groundbreaking work, Louv sheds light on this important issue that deeply affects our children.

In this Parent & Child magazine article, Louv explains why nature is vital for children: As human beings, our connection to nature is biologically innate. Nature deficit disorder is not a medical condition but a description of the human costs of alienation from nature. This alienation damages children, and some of the consequent problems are depression, obesity, and attention problems.

In his Orion magazine article, “Leave No Child Inside,” Louv discusses the need behind the movement to reconnect kids with nature: “As one suburban fifth grader put it to me, in what has become the signature epigram of the children-and-nature movement: ‘I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.’”

Due to the movement, there is growing dialogue on the subject of children and nature among educators, health care providers, recreation companies, residential developers, urban planners, conservation agencies, academics, and others.

There is also a growing body of research on the problem of children’s disconnection from the natural environment, and the benefits of increased connection. Some of the benefits discussed in this Natural Learning Initiative piece are:

  • Supports creativity and problem solving
  • Enhances cognitive abilities
  • Improves social relations
  • Improves self-discipline
  • Reduces stress
  • Reduces Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms
  • Increases physical activity.

Children’s immersion and connection with nature also has profound implications on future conservation and the direction of the environmental movement. If, as a society, we would truly understand the benefits nature has to offer to our children, we would be more inclined to re-evaluate our relationship with nature and the urgency to protect our beautiful Earth.

Additional API Resources for Earth Day

Larry CohenPlayful Parenting with Larry Cohen,” author of Playful Parenting, The Art of Roughhousing, and Picnic on a Cloud, in this API Teleseminar — now just $9 for your audio recording!

Nature’s toys” from AP Month 2011

More professional insight from The Attached Family online magazine:

Conscious Living with Lisa Reagan,” executive editor of Kindred Media & Community, cofounder of Families for Conscious Living, and member of API’s Resource Advisory Council

Parenting for a Sustainable World: Cultivating a Reverence for Life” by Lysa Parker, cofounder of API and coauthor of Attached at the Heart

And personal stories from other APtly Said blog posts:

Teaching environmental responsibility

Nature therapy

Fall party

Hiking with children

The Clown is Sometimes Serious

bubliny-1207473-mThe clown, the astronaut, the chatterbox, the complainer, the “slob” and many more stereotypes all appear in our families and in our classrooms.

These are the characters that can disturb, annoy, frustrate and anger us, because they interrupt and spoil our agendas. We are convinced that this is how they always are. They make us worry. We wonder if they were born this way and if they are destined to stay this way.

But sometimes “the clown” is serious, and sometimes he is sad. Sometimes the “astronaut” is attentive and focused. Sometimes the “chatterbox” is pensive and quiet. Sometimes the “complainer” is appreciative. Sometimes the “slob” is orderly.

But their stereotyped behavior seems so dominant and convincing, that we can’t see anything else. In fact, we’re not even looking for anything else.

When we think of a child in a certain way, we lock him right into the way we perceive him. Without intending to do so, we imprison children into patterns of behaving. Sometimes when others stigmatize a child, we continue enforcing the pattern, even though we don’t mean to.

Johanne Wolfgang Von Goete, a German philosopher in the late 1700s and early 1800s, is quoted as saying, “If you relate to a person as if he is already capable of what he can be, he will be what he is capable of being.”

What children really want and need from us is to be understood and known. Instead of identifying the child with his behavior, we want to convey an attitude of:

  1. belief in the child, knowing that as he grows up, the character traits we long to see in him will come to fruition;
  2. trust in the child’s good intentions and his desire to be “good” before you try to influence;
  3. desire to truly understand who he is and what he needs from us.

Reb Nachman of Breslav, a Jewish leader also in the late 1700s and early 1800s, taught that every person should be favorably judged, and if we do so, we elevate that person to a level of favorable judgment. We may apply this to adults but forget to do so with children. Are our hearts soft enough to see our children in a favorable light?

A change in the child’s behavior will result from a change in our own perception of the child. When we realize we are seeing only one aspect of the child and that there is so much more that we are not yet seeing, we can begin to appreciate this child for who he really is. Instead of trying to cut out a behavior that might irritate us, we can help bring out other intentions and qualities that we do not as easily see in the child. It’s not “this or that,” but that “this and this” co-exist together.

I remember a story of a boy who was labeled “careless and irresponsible.” He “broke everything he touched.” Fortunately, even though his teacher was “warned” about his behavior, she did not see him as careless and irresponsible. She knew he had the potential to take responsibility. She gave him small jobs — and then bigger jobs — that would help this potential grow.

When a child feels confident within the relationship with his parent or teacher, he can rest in this relationship. This rest frees him to take responsibility, venture forth into new experiences and feel confident. The parent or teacher conveys:

“I am here for you. I care about you. I believe in you. Your very presence is a source of delight. I am your answer, and you can always count on me. When things don’t go the way you would like, I am here to offer you comfort. I do not want to shape you but to accompany you on your journey of discovering your many abilities.”

This is the nourishment that a relationship of secure attachment provides.

We all have the capacity to be a clown, to be forgetful, to be irresponsible, to complain sometimes, and we all have the capacity to be the opposite of all these things sometimes. We are all human. Surely if we can see this in ourselves, we can accept this in our children and students, and develop the necessary patience to support their development and wait for the qualities of maturity to develop in their right season.

API Live! Full of Love with Dr. Bill Sears

Join us for the next API Live! Teleseminar scheduled for October 25, 2010 at 9pm ET/6pm PT: Full of Love: Giving our children a foundation for lifelong health through attachment parenting with Dr. Bill Sears and Dominique Hodgin M.Ed.c., NE.

Register for this call to hear hosts Lu Hanessian and API co-founder Lysa Parker speak with Dr. Bill Sears and Dominique Hodgin M.Ed.c., NE about keeping our children full of love. Send your questions to apilive AT attachmentparenting DOT org about giving our children a foundation for lifelong health through attachment parenting.

Topics for the call include:

  • A Healthier Family – Keeping your children and family healthy can seem challenging, whether it is confusing nutrition information or time and budget constraints.
  • Expecting and Nursing Moms – Beginning at conception, how an expecting mom eats and how she treats her body will have a profound impact on the development of her baby, both in the womb and after birth.
  • Health Concerns – From ADHD to childhood obesity, many  parents are watching the effects poor nutrition and a lack of exercise is having on their children.
  • Behavior – You may wonder why your child suddenly loses control, won’t listen or becomes disruptive in the classroom. It may surprise you to know that certain processed food and additives may be impacting your child behavior and even your own.
  • Learning – As a parent you want your kid to do their best in school. But, with so many areas of a child’s health impacted by the food they eat they may not be as successful as they can be.
  • Performance – You do what you can to help your children perform their best on the sports field or on stage. It can be surprising to find out that your best efforts to help them improve or practice regularly may be undermined with the foods and snacks your kids are eating at mealtime or for energy at halftime.

REGISTER NOW for the API Live! Full of Love teleseminar with Dr. Bill Sears.

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