In his critically acclaimed 2005 book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “nature deficit disorder.” In the book, he argued that many children today have an abject separation from nature and embrace the great indoors instead, through an overly indulgent electronic media diet and fear of things outside. He looked at the alarmingly high rates of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, and other mental health diagnosis that are so present in children today and made a strong case, both empirically and anecdotally, that children who connect with nature in a meaningfully way are that much happier and healthier because of it. He found that they could be more successful in school as well, as immersion in nature increased children’s ability to concentrate; fostered creative play; and relieved attention deficit disorder symptoms. This is not to forget the heavy dose of awe and wonder nature supplies children and us all.
His book helped touch off a back to nature movement for children and spurred a national debate. Such thoughts have not been far from one local school. The Alexander Central School District is currently building an outdoor classroom designed to reduce nature deficiencies . Concerned about these issues, long-term elementary teacher Ellie Jinks pursued and was awarded a $50,000 “Refresh Everything” Pepsi grant to start the project. When phase one is completed, the school will have the first certified outdoor classroom in this part of New York. With design and planning assistance from The Arbor Day Foundation, The Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, Nature Explore Classroom Certification Program, and project direction from local company Conservation Matters, school, business, and other community volunteers, have begun construction. Ten learning stations are being constructed in the school’s existing nature study area. There will be distinct areas for bird watching, writing, performance, math, water play, wheel toys, art and performance, as well as gardening. A fitness path and a greenhouse are also part of the plans, with the construction of the greenhouse to be done in 2013. The emphasis will be on learning, as teachers will be trained in how to teach New York State Curriculum within the outdoor classroom, but also on unstructured play in nature and appreciation of it.
Citing the book, the school said it hoped to do its part to save its students from “nature deficit disorder” and promote health, exercise, and outdoor play. You can read more about the project in the report published recently by The Batavian.