Over the past few years some writers and educators have raised concerns about how children are spending less time exploring and playing in nature. In the 2006 book Last Child in the Woods Richard Louv pulls together some recent research to show that North American children have, in fact, been spending progressively less unstructured time exploring nature. He describes this problem as “nature deficit disorder” and argues that this may have negative effects on their emotional, intellectual, and physical development.
As someone interested in both children’s literacy and environmental education, I would like to offer some suggestions to counter nature deficit disorder and increase nature literacy for children and families.
- Invest in a few good field guides or borrow some from the Library. It can be very useful to have tree, bird, and insect field guides. Begin by identifying the things that grow or live right outside your front door.
- Go for a hike: how many different birds, plants, tress, and insects do you see? Bring your field guides along or take pictures and look them up when you get home. Keep a journal about what you discover on your hikes. Include drawings or any information you find interesting
- Go to the Library and explore the non-fiction books. There are many excellent books about plants, animals, and other things that can be found in nature. There are also craft books that use natural materials.
- Plant a vegetable or flower garden. Gardens provide ample opportunity to enhance nature literacy skills. From reading seed packets to reading a recipe to make meals out of your harvest, the possibilities are (almost) endless. You can draw a planting map of your garden, keep a garden journal, research insects and animals that spend time in your garden and more! The Library has many interesting gardening activity books for children.
Not only can improving children’s nature literacy help them to be stronger readers and budding naturalists, scientists, and gardeners but it can bring families together for quality time that may signal the development of new family traditions and hobbies. So pick up a book and head outside!