Not so many years ago, kids went outside to play and didn't return home until the streetlights came on.
Not any more. One fourth grader reports that he likes to play indoors better "because that's where all the electrical outlets are."
But, there's a price to pay for youngsters who don't get out much. Journalist and child advocate, Richard Louv, discusses the problem of nature deficit disorder in his new book, "Last Child in the Woods."
"Never before in our history have children been so separated from nature," Louv tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith "They can tell you anything about the Amazon rain forest, but they can't tell you about the last time they went out in the woods and watched the leaves move."
The problem is that some parents are afraid to let their kids roam the woods and fields the way they once did. But Louv believes you can create safe zones for kids. You can give them cell phones when they go out.
Louv claims that, according to recent reseach, lack of direct contact with nature is connected to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). H ealso cites statistics showing children who play in nature perform better at school.
"It reduces their stress level," Louv says. "Biologically, we are still hunters and gatherers. We haven't changed since that time. What happens to the human organism when you take nature away from it and replace it with television and computers? I call that cultural autism where children's use of the senses is reduced to the size of a screen, like a computer. Only in nature are we using our full senses all at the same time in a positive way."
"I'm not telling parents to let their kid run free all the time," he says, pointing out that statistics about child snatchings have actually gone down over the last 10 years. Also, most child snatchings are carried out by someone the child knows, he says.
To reverse the trend and get kids back out to experience nature, Louv says parents need to set an example.
He suggests parents take heir kids fishing or organize other family outdoor activities.
"One of the neat things is if a parent has not had this experience themselves," he says, "once they know the good news about how good it is for their kids, they'll be out there having that experience themselves."
BETTA PLAY believes KIDS NEED PLAY !Kids should have their own playground, playing and exploring on their own. A great kids zone requires children to get a variety of experiences while playing, for example: how to communicate with people, how to share happiness to their little partners, how to teamwork, how to establish the correct values and so on. Wherever they are, in the airport, parks, shopping malls or in the hotel, restaurants, schools, kids should have their own playground whenever they are.
“Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends,” says Gray, an expert on the evolution of play and its vital role in child development. “In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.”
All children are born with an innate curiosity, playfulness, sociability and deep desire to learn, but at some point after they enter school, what was once fun and engaging begins to feel forced, he explains. And, anxiety and stress levels among youths are at an all-time high: they are bogged down with homework, over-scheduled with extracurricular activities, deprived of free play, and faced with the pressures of getting into a top college.
“How did we come to the conclusion that the best way to educate students is to force them into a setting where they are bored, unhappy and anxious?” Gray asks. “Our compulsory education system features forced lessons, standardized tests, and seems specially designed to crush a child’s innate and biological drives for learning.” The traditional “coercive” school model, he adds, was originally developed to indoctrinate, not to promote intellectual growth.
Free to Learn outlines the difference between structured play (Little League) and free play (a pickup game of baseball) and emphasizes the need for the latter in society worldwide.
Among reasons he outlines for the disappearance of free, unstructured play: a decline in families knowing their neighbors and a rise in parents' fearing dangers to children who are not under adult supervision, which Gray says comes partly from exaggerated media reports; increased time in school, at homework and in adult-directed activities outside of school; and most significantly, a rise in the societal attitude that childhood is a time for résumé building and that free play is wasted time.