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Nature Deficit Disorder?

  • Lori Borgman Contributor
  • Published Jul 12, 2007
Nature Deficit Disorder?
The closest a lot of kids get to nature these days is watching an animated movie about penguins in an air-conditioned theater while eating buttered popcorn.

Many of them will grow up thinking a worm is something that infects the computer and that a weed is part of the drug education program.

I just finished a book about rescuing children who suffer from nature-deficit disorder. Nature deficit-disorder isn’t an official medical term, but it probably should be.

Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” talked with a fourth-grade boy from San Diego who summarized the situation well. He said, ”I like to play indoors better ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

I’ve always been of the mindset that kids and the outdoors go together. The kids claim I sent them outside every opportunity I had. They will tell you that if there were two feet of snow on the ground and a wind chill of 5 below, I still sent them outside to play. Maybe I did, but it’s not like they were alone. The guy driving the snowplow was outside, too.

Today, more and more schools are cutting back on recess to focus on academics in an attempt to raise test scores. More and more parents are simply afraid to let their kids outside. With dwindling time for playing outside, I don’t know who to pity more, the kids, the parents or the teachers.

We had it made in the neighborhood where I grew up. The subdivision bordered a large wood with dense trees, thick underbrush and a winding creek. In some parts, the creek was shallow enough you could jump from rock to rock and cross without getting wet. Further down it ambled along and made a bend where the water stood still and deep and formed a lagoon. The boys dog paddled in the lagoon, shook themselves dry and then peeled off the leeches stuck to their legs.

We wandered those woods and hop scotched that creek with our imaginations two steps ahead of us. Twigs and leaves from the pioneer days crunched underfoot, ferns the fairies danced among brushed against our calves and carpet moss was royal velvet to the touch.

The woods held delights like trillium and lady’s slipper, momma opossums lumbering across the trail and box turtles nestled along the bank.

Every kid who trampled those paths had the joy of cleaning mud from shoes, picking cockleburs out of socks and could tell the difference between a water moccasin and a copperhead.

We learned the call of a Bobwhite and the melody of a cardinal, how to spot poison ivy and the burrows where the groundhogs hid.

We not only witnessed the changing seasons in those woods, we walked right through them, winter, spring, summer and fall.

Today’s nature deficit is exacerbated by technology -- laptops, cell phones, iPods, and assorted buds one can plug into the ears. Why listen to crickets and bullfrogs when you can have radio Disney everywhere you go?

This summer a host of kids will get their allocated nature fix by going to camp. They will have opportunity to lie in the grass and watch the clouds float by. Maybe they’ll watch a finch build a nest, or simply sit, unplugged, and listen to the locust, as the shadows grow long and the mourning doves coo.

The nature thing will happen, but it will be timed, regulated, highly structured and under adult supervision. The lazy days of Tom and Huck have gone adrift.


Columnist and speaker Lori Borgman is the author of several books including Pass the Faith, Please (Waterbrook Press) and All Stressed Up and No Place to Go     (Emmis Books). Comments may be sent to her at