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Do Our Kids Have Nature-Deficit Disorder?

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Reprinted by Permission

ASCD Magazine


Educational Leadership



December 2009/January 2010 | Volume 67 | Number 4

Health and Learning Pages 24-30

Richard Louv


Some are hyperactive. Some are distracted. Some are obese. Schools can improve both health and learning by reintroducing students to the natural world.


A few years ago, I was deeply moved by a photograph I saw on the back page of a magazine. It showed a small boy at the ocean's edge, his tracks receding in the wet sand toward the water. Beyond the sand, one could see a gray sky, a distant island, and a long, even wave in the beginning of collapse. The boy had turned to face the photographer. His eyes were wide and his mouth was open in an exclamation of discovery. He was a picture of joy.


This powerful black-and-white image was accompanied by a short article explaining that this child had a problem—he was hyperactive and could not pay attention. Because he disrupted the other students, he had been expelled from school. At first, his parents did not know what to do. But they were observant. They had already seen how nature calmed their son and helped him focus. Over the next decade, they seized every opportunity to introduce him to the natural world—to beaches, forests, and dunes as well as to the rivers and mountains of the American West. The little boy turned out fine. The photograph was taken in 1907. The boy's name was Ansel Adams.


But what if Ansel's parents had not given him the gift of nature, I wondered? Would he have given us the gift of his photography—the dome of Yosemite and the moon rising over Hernandez, New Mexico—all those iconic images that have helped shape the modern conservation ethic?

Many teachers across the United States—I call them natural teachers—intuitively or experientially understand the role nature can play in children's education and health. I meet them often. They're in every school: science teachers, english teachers, and many others who are not formally environmental educators, who insist on taking their students outside to learn— to write poetry in a natural setting, to learn about science or history outdoors. These teachers see a schoolyard garden, a park, a nearby woods, or a beach as a learning environment—a place to find wholeness and health. They tell stories, about the 10-year-old classroom troublemaker who becomes a leader outdoors, whose demeanor changes almost magically from agitated and disruptive to focused and respectful; about a budding writer who blooms; or about the young scientist who discovers in a field what was hidden in a textbook.

Ask Dr. Susan