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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Holmén

Understanding Nature-Deficit Disorder: How to Reconnect Your Child with the Outdoors

By Deborah Holmen, M.Ed., NBCT, published in A Parent is Born

When was the last time you saw a group of kids running about outside in their neighborhood? If it's been a while, you're not alone. This trend is not just concerning; it's alarming. Children are spending more time indoors, disconnected from nature. This worrying trend has given rise to what author Richard Louv calls ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder,’ a term he coined in his influential book, ‘Last Child in the Woods.’

Louv’s theory emphasizes three key components: nature-deficit disorder, the importance of reconnecting with nature, and the potential consequences of alienation from the natural world.

According to Louv, the potential consequences of alienation from the natural world are not to be taken lightly. They can manifest in a range of physical, mental, and emotional issues.

These can include a significant decrease in physical activity, a troubling increase in stress and anxiety, a concerning rise in attention disorders, and a disheartening loss of connection to the environment.

Louv argues that reconnecting with nature is not just beneficial, it's essential for our overall well-being and that spending time in nature can help to alleviate these consequences.

Several factors contribute to kids not getting outside and exploring the natural world. These include the increased use of electronic devices and screens, safety concerns among parents, academic pressures, and a lack of access to safe outdoor spaces.

Additionally, urbanization and suburban sprawl have reduced the availability of natural areas for children to explore and play in. Studies show that 61% of children indicate they spend less time outside a week, whereas 65% of their parents said they played outside after school every day.

All is not lost, however. Scientists are recognizing the physical impact on children and demonstrating how children who spend time in nature alter their gut microbiome and ‘happy hormones.”

After participating in the 10-week nature-related program, preschool children showed increased connectedness to nature, reduced stress levels, and alterations in gut microbiota and fecal serotonin levels. These findings suggest that nature-related activities can positively impact the well-being and behavior of young children.

How to Combat NDD

As parents, it’s crucial to recognize the signs of nature-deficit disorder in our children and take action to combat it. If your child is constantly glued to screens, showing signs of restlessness or disinterest in outdoor activities, it may be time to make a change. By incorporating more time in nature into your child’s routine, you can help them reap the countless benefits of connecting with the natural world.

1. Every state has a Division of Parks and Recreation that lists local parks and recreation areas that offer outdoor programs and activities for children, such as nature walks, wildlife observation, and educational workshops.

2. Nature centers and botanical gardens frequently host events and classes tailored to children, promoting outdoor exploration and environmental education.

3. The National Wildlife Federation’s three-year goal of getting 21 million children and teens back outdoors has created a program partnered with L.L. Bean called The Green Hour. The program provides events and an easy-to-follow curriculum for parents and kids to explore the world around them.

4. Local non-profit organizations dedicated to environmental education and conservation often offer outdoor programs and events designed for children, such as guided nature hikes, wildlife observation, and hands-on learning experiences. Google your community for programs like these.

5. Community gardens and farms may provide opportunities for children to engage in outdoor activities like gardening, planting, and learning about sustainable agriculture.

6. Outdoor adventure or nature-based camps can offer a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, camping, and nature exploration, in a structured and supervised environment. Outward Bound is one such organization, and its eighty years of experience-based outdoor learning and leadership programs for youth and adults have proven the importance of reconnecting humans back to nature.

7. Zoos, aquariums, and wildlife sanctuaries often organize educational programs and interactive exhibits focused on connecting children with the natural world and wildlife conservation.

Spending time in nature has been proven to improve cognitive function, boost mood and creativity, and enhance physical health. From going on hikes and bike rides to gardening and playing in the park, there are countless ways to incorporate nature into your child’s daily life. By making these small changes, you can help your child combat nature-deficit disorder and lead a healthier, happier life.

So, parents, let’s work together to ensure that our children have ample opportunities to connect with nature. By prioritizing outdoor play and exploration, we can help our children thrive and develop a deeper appreciation for the world around them. Together, we can make a positive change and combat the epidemic of nature-deficit disorder.


Deborah Holmén, M.Ed, NBCT, a 25-year veteran educator, parent, and research writer, shares her experiences in and out of the classroom and in life. Her book “It Takes a Lot of Sh*t to Grow Beautiful Flowers: A Gardeners Guide to Life” available soon at bookstores and on Amazon.


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