The grass is finally green, leaves are filling the trees, and creatures of all sorts – from garter snakes to mosquitoes – are taking up residence in our yard. It’s the season that my family relishes spending time outside. This year, my almost-three-year-old is fascinated with every bug, twig and spider web he encounters.
We’re lucky to live in a beautiful part of the world, and in a community that values nature. Unfortunately, the evidence shows that fewer and fewer families experience the same connection with nature that we do – and this is having a detrimental effect on children.
A growing body of evidence suggests people of all ages, and especially children, have fewer nature experiences and spend less time outside compared with previous generations. The research shows this trend has negative implications for health, especially childhood obesity, as well as development and education. A term has even been coined for the problem – “nature-deficit disorder.”
Here at the College of Human Ecology, Professor Nancy Wells is working on this issue. She is an environmental psychologist whose work delves into childhood exposure to nature and adult attitudes toward the environment. Her research has demonstrated that having natural areas in communities promotes well-being, encourages physical activity and encourages social connections by bolstering a sense of community.
There’s still more work needed to find the best ways to connect people with nature in our modern world. But already, the take-home message is clear. People of all ages should make an effort to spend time outside, and governments and communities need to develop natural areas that give their residents access to nature.