Helping kids connect with nature

For many adults of an earlier generation, memories of childhood are often filled with the outdoors, jumping in local streams, climbing trees in the backyard and family camping trips. Fast-forward to today, and the digital age has not only affected how we ‘play’ as adults but how our children understand and experience nature.

‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ is a modern term, coined by journalist and author Richard Louv to describe how our digital lifestyles are affecting the next generation. In his newest book, 'The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder', Louv suggests time spent in nature may offer better psychological, physical and spiritual health for people of all ages.

“In recent years, an emerging body of research has begun to describe the restorative power of time spent in the natural world,” Louv writes. “Even in small doses, we are learning, exposure to nature can measurably improve our psychological and physical health.”

A research report commissioned by Planet Ark called ‘Planting Trees: Just What The Doctor Ordered’ outlines research that links childhood contact with nature to a range of health and wellbeing benefits, including:

  • Positive mental health outcomes, reduced stress levels, reduced depression, and increased confidence and self esteem;
  • Physical health benefits, such as reduced risks of obesity, and improved recovery from certain medical conditions;
  • Enhanced intellectual development, such as improved creativity and imagination, and improved academic performance; and
  • A stronger sense of concern and care for the environment in later life.

It is echoed by a number of other studies which indicate that children who play and explore outdoors are happier, less stressed and gain confidence and social skills. In nature, we get a chance to move at life’s natural pace.

Even in a metropolitan environment, there are lots of ways to help your kids connect with nature and give you a chance to switch off and ‘play’.

Match screen time with stream time

Richard Louv suggests a 'hybrid mind' approach, where we can seek the benefits of both virtual reality and natural reality. Matching our time spent indoors plugged into devices to the time we spend outdoors in nature gives us the best of both worlds.

Invite nature into your home

Maintain a birdbath, plant native plants or build a pond. Nature Rocks has some great suggestions for encouraging children to connect with nature through hands-on, informal exploration and play, no matter where you live.


Stories and books about animals, plants, and wild places can whet children’s appetite for outdoor adventure. They make natural experiences come alive and teach them about what blossoms and buzzes outside their door.

What do you think? Have you experienced ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in your family? How do you encourage your kids to get outdoors and connect with nature?


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