Encouraging Kids to Reflect on Lifestyle Choices: A Middle School Nature Deficit Disorder Survey
Posted: October 1, 2010
To be a teacher in the 21st Century is to be continually introduced to an ever-increasing array of official learning disabilities and disorders. Every year, we seem to encounter new ones, the existence of which had been unsuspected until the latest parent conference with the school learning specialist.
In 2005, Nature Deficit Disorder joined the list. That was the year Richard Louv published his book Last Child in the Woods, which introduced this condition to the world. Louv’s premise is that children growing up today spend more time indoors (usually glued to one or more screens of some sort), less time outdoors, less time in contact with nature, and less time in free, unstructured, play than any children in human history. Louv worries about the effect this will have on children. Constantly planted on the couch trying to defeat the Scorpion King, will they be as healthy, happy, and creative as children of generations past? Will they care about the conservation of living things and their habitats if they have failed to develop any emotional attachment to nature in their youth? Though Nature Deficit Disorder has yet to achieve official recognition by the American Psychiatric Association, Louv’s book has struck a nerve, and today, the phrase is widely used in environmental and educational circles. Many of us have found Louv’s book convincing and share his concerns.
That includes us. The goal of our 8th grade environmental science course is to provide our students with the information and habits of mind they can use to help make the world a better place. Reflecting upon their lifestyle choices and deciding how they intend to live their lives is an integral part of the class. In this spirit, in the beginning of the year, we introduce our students to Nature Deficit Disorder and ask them to think about whether they and their peers are suffering from it.
Of course, the only childhoods these students know are their own, so they lack a frame of reference with which to compare. That is where our Nature Deficit Disorder survey comes in. Our students ask their parents to compare the childhoods they knew with the childhoods of their own progeny in the present day. The tallied results, shared with our students, serve as a springboard for class discussions on whether kids these days are, in fact, spending too much time indoors narcoticized by the computer and too little time outdoors engaging in free play. We hope that the discussion contributes to their efforts to define a lifestyle that they would like to have.
The survey is brief and easy to carry out. It is reproduced below:
NATURE-DEFICIT DISORDER QUESTIONS
Please take time to interview your parent(s)/guardian(s) using the questions in the table below as a guide. If you can talk to more than one adult, it would be helpful. Ask your parents/guardians if they (the adults) spent more time, less time, or about the same amount of time as you doing the following activities as a child:
|Activity||Parents spent more time, less time, or about the same amount of time as child|
|Time spent doing homework|
|Time spent in adult-sanctioned activities (e.g. classes, scouts) and sports (e.g. Little League, soccer league)|
|Time spent inventing games and “free play” outdoors (making forts, dams, etc.)|
|Time spent being chauffeured in a car|
|Time spent observing nature (e.g. walking in woods, hiking, visiting nature preserves/refuges|
If the adults you interviewed spent more time in free play and time outdoors than you, ask whether they valued these things and why or why not. Summarize here:
Having read this article, would you describe yourself as a person who experiences nature-deficit disorder? Explain.
Do you feel that most of your peers experience nature-deficit disorder or not? Explain.
Do you think that nature-deficit disorder is something we should be concerned with? Why or why not?
The National Environmental Education Foundation has adopted this little project and made it a national survey, maintaining a data base gathered from kids from around the country. To contribute to it:
- Visit EEWeek.org
- Hover your mouse over Resources in the top navigation bar. A drop-down menu will appear.
- Select Children and Nature, which will link to the survey.
- Your students can complete the survey on-line and submit it. The page also provides a two-page review from the New York Times Review of Books that you can download. This article effectively introduces the Nature Deficit Disorder concept to your students. Louv even mentions this survey in the revised edition of his book.
We enjoy this brief exercise. In our experience, the survey results consistently and dramatically illustrate how different childhoods are today, and they inspire engaging discussions that provoke our students to question how they are spending their teen-age years and how they would like to be adults.