Google Hangout Discusses Growing Concerns Over Students Spending Less Time Outside

Many educators and parents are concerned with the lack of nature in children’s lives. Earle B. Wood MS science teacher Shawn Ackley was part of a group discussing this growing issue through Google Hangout with author Richard Louv.

The hangout was organized by National Geographic Education and took place on Nov. 5. Louv is the author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficient Disorder.”

“For almost all of human history and pre-history, children went outside and spent most of their developing years playing or working in nature, and in the matter of three decades, that has reduced dramatically,” Louv said.

According to Louv, outdoor education, or cultivating a connection with nature, is a crucial part of a child’s life in practical ways. With fewer children spending time outdoors on their own, Louv believes schools should make up the gap.

One of the points of the conversation was that for some teachers, getting their kids outside for a legitimate reason takes some serious creativity. Teachers working to incorporate the outdoors in the curriculums of classes that are more academically focused tend to have a more difficult time finding ways to take students outside. It is much harder to find a viable reason to do an activity outside for an AP Calculus class than a horticulture class.

Ackley said, “You have to set the expectations; it’s an outdoor classroom. I think you can do just as much or more outside, but they have to be willing to work.”

In addition to Ackley and Louv, another hangout participant was Katie Register, executive director of Clean Virginia Waterwaves. Register emphasized that any outdoor time schools provide is valuable. “We don’t have to go to the Grand Canyon to understand geo-literacy and we don’t have to go to the Gulf of Mexico to understand watersheds; it’s all around you,” she said.

Although it is difficult to find good connections to some lessons and curriculums, there is always a connection to be made in the grandeur of nature, with its endless lessons to be learned from it.

Louv said, “It’s not only the absence of nature in kid’s lives, but it’s also the absence of independent play, and the ability to visualize, to come up with their own images.”

At home, one of the largest factors that stops children from going outside is their parents and greater stress on child safety, largely due to the extreme exposure to the media, specifically news stations constantly reporting the latest tragedy to happen to children.

Ackley said, “Is it really a more dangerous place? No, but we are hearing about the news all the time.”

Professionals are investigating the effects of nature deprivation more and more as technology continues to dominate children’s time and attention, and thus their daily lives.

Louv said, “Nature deficit disorder is not a known medical diagnosis; maybe it should be, but it’s not yet.”