Do Our Kids Have Nature-Deficit Disorder? What Parents and the Community Can Do

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ASCD Magazine


Educational Leadership



December 2009/January 2010 | Volume 67 | Number 4

Health and Learning Pages 24-30

Richard Louv

Last year, in Austin, Texas, I was speaking with a middle school principal who was sympathetic to the cause but felt overwhelmed by all the demands that he and his colleagues already faced. "You want me to add this to my plate when it's already overflowing?" he asked. "I can't do this without outside help." He was right. Naturalizing education will be an enormous task, and educators can't do it alone. Families and the whole community can help by doing some of the following.

Support Legislation

We can support legislation at the state and national levels that advances environmental education in the classroom and outdoor experiential learning. The No Child Left Inside Act of 2009, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, would create an environmental education grant program for teacher development and provide funding to help ensure that primary and secondary school students are environmentally literate. The legislation's focus is not only on classroom education, but also on actually getting students outside and into nature.

Join the Movement

Even more important is the emerging Leave No Child Inside movement. The Children & Nature Network, a nonprofit organization that advances the movement, reports that some 60 regional campaigns have sprung up in the United States and Canada over the past four years, as have a number around the globe, which together make up a growing international network of thousands of individuals, families, and organizations. Regional campaigns include local, state, and national park and recreation agencies, educators, health-care professionals, conservationists, children, college students, government officials, and businesspeople. The movement appears to transcend political and religious divisions. That bodes well for schools; in a sense, the movement could be creating a new constituency for education.

Get Parent-Teacher Groups Involved

As a practical matter, parent-teacher groups can support schools and educators financially and by presenting annual Natural Teacher Awards to educators who have used the natural world as an effective learning environment for their students. Parent-teacher groups, schools, and educators can also encourage parents to create family nature nights. For example, in Omaha, Nebraska, a consortium formed to foster nature-based play is hosting five family nature nights at local elementary and middle schools, which will offer hands-on, nature-based play activities for children and their families.

Start an Outdoor Club

A 2nd grade teacher and his wife in Roanoke, Virginia, decided to spend more time with their three children on weekends doing family hikes and other outdoor adventures. One day, their 5-year-old son asked, "Why are we the only family having this much fun?" So the family mapped out a monthly outdoor adventure schedule for the coming year and invited neighbors to join. Today, they have 352 families on their e-mail list. Member families meet on Saturdays or Sundays at various parks and other venues where they experience the natural world. A similar parent-organized group in California, the Inland Empire Kids Outdoors club, has signed up 227 families.

Families in any kind of neighborhood can start such clubs—and they can do it now. (Go to for a tool kit for jump-starting family nature clubs.) What if family nature clubs and networks really caught on? What if they grew in number, just as book clubs have in recent decades? Not only would they help reduce the stress that parents and children experience in their hurried lives, but also they would promote stronger family bonds. And stronger families mean stronger schools. As the Austin middle school principal and I talked about these approaches, he became increasingly excited, especially about family nature clubs. "I could encourage parents to create these groups," he said, "and even help them weave in some curriculum-based learning."

Ask Dr. Susan