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A Conservation Council of New Brunswick initiative is urging parents and educators to take children outside more often in an effort to promote better health and environmental stewardship in the future.

According to author Richard Louv, “Nature-deficit disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature – among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illness. This disorder can be detected in individuals, families, and communities.”

As children are spending an increasing amount of time indoors and becoming more plugged into technology, they’re also becoming disconnected with nature and developing nature deficit disorder.

When I was younger, my mom used to send my brother and I outside to play all the time. Our teachers use to teach us outside, whether it was teaching us the regular curriculum outdoors or incorporating native plants into the lesson.

Children were allowed to play freely in their backyards and in nearby fields. Children knew of the different plants and species in their neighbourhoods.

Today, children know more about corporate logos and what’s on TV rather than what’s in their own backyards.

Today, children are spending more time indoors watching TV and playing video games. When children aren’t wasting their free time indoors, many of them are overscheduled with organized sports and lessons. They have less time to just relax, play and have fun.

With children spending more time indoors, there also seems to be an increase in obesity, ADD symptoms, bullying and mental-health problems. Unstructured play fosters creativity, imagination and confidence in children.

Even at school, children seem to be spending a greater amount of time indoors and learning mainly through listening and seeing.

Education is often test-based and only benefits select learning styles. I always learned best through hands on experiences, and through things I could taste, feel, hear or smell.

Children tend to be more engaged in what they’re learning when they’re able to use all of their senses. It may be cheaper and quicker to simply teach children indoors, but is it really worth the consequences?

Some people even argue it’s safer for children to stay inside. However, there’s more air pollution indoors than outdoors. Germs and illnesses get spread quicker inside than they would outside.

Children are also far less active when they’re inside than they would be if they were outside. Given our high obesity rates, shouldn’t taking children outside be our No. 1 priority?

With children becoming less connected to nature, they also feel less responsible for taking care of it.

Children are even becoming afraid of their own natural environment. Children are more likely to pollute and care less about the environment when they grow up if they’ve never felt a connection to it.

With the high pollution rates today, we need people to be environmentally friendly, but why would people care if they aren’t out enjoying the environment themselves?

Given the numerous benefits of getting children outside and our great passion and enjoyment of the outdoors, we’re working on the No Child Left Inside initiative with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

The initiative seeks to reconnect New Brunswick’s youth with the outdoors. The council believes that New Brunswick schools should offer an environment in which nature is used as an educational resource.

Instead of developing new environmental education curriculum, the project endeavours to facilitate outdoor experiences for New Brunswick students by finding creative ways of teaching existing curriculum in natural spaces on school grounds or nearby.

Children should grow up to be healthy, engaged learners and critical thinkers as they’re the leaders of tomorrow.

Let’s make a difference in their physical and mental health – let’s get them outside.

For more information, visit www.conservationcouncil.ca/No_Child_Left_Inside.aspx

Sharon McKillop and Tessa Saunders are St. Thomas University social work students doing their study placements with the Conservation Council of New Brunswick.

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