Nature-deficit disorder

Until today, I think I’ve been pretty good about remaining good-natured and going with the flow of whatever crazy things happen during my visits to the middle school. One of my students said something today that shocked me soooo much that I couldn’t recover for a couple minutes. Now, some of you will think this isn’t a big deal, but for me, it’s huge! Allow me to explain…

First, some background about me. I grew up playing outdoors in the great landscape of Michigan edge suburbia/rural. I was (and still am!) a nature-loving tomboy and enjoyed nothing more than just being outside. Playing in the woods, running and hiding in the fields, and splashing through the creeks was icing on the cake. I was almost always dirty as a kid and my mom couldn’t keep up with all the holes I put in my clothing. You get the picture.

Now, back to Kansas, and today. For the first time this year, we got to go OUTSIDE! I was thrilled at the beautiful weather and couldn’t wait to see how my students would open up, engage the world, and become better little scientists just by setting their feet outside of the oppressive school halls. (Ok-so I admit I had high expectations.) Ms. Reno and I gave them gloves, trowels, and trash bags and sent them to roam around picking up trash and tidying up the flower beds. Then disaster struck. One of my favorite students, one who has tons of promise as a future scientist, came up to me and said, “Ugh…I hate being outside like this. Look, I’m sweating! It’s sooo dirty and gross. I guess we have to do ‘cuz it’s good for the environment or something, right? Can we go back in yet?”

The poor kid probably thought I was having a stroke. I looked up from the fresh, green grass I had been running my hands through and stared at him…probably with my jaw dropped in shock. I had nothing to say. I couldn’t even comprehend what he was thinking and feeling. How could someone that I thought so highly of reject that natural world that motivated me as a scientist?

Reflecting back on the event, I realize that it is my first direct experience with ‘nature-deficit disorder’, as described by Richard Louv in Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-defecit Disorder. I read this book while in Belize a couple years ago and it made a huge impact on me. The sheer volume of research backing direct exposure to nature as essential for the physical and emotional development of kids is astounding, and I suspect it is dead-on.

I’d be curious to know what other blog-readers feel about this issue. Is the increasingly indoor, technology-laden lifestyle harmful for us and for kids? How does having ‘nature-deficit disorder’ affect the way we think about and do science?

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About Sarah Roels

I'm a former Ph.D. student at the University of Kansas in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I study mating system evolution in plants, using the model system Mimulus. I now work at Michigan State University as their GK-12 project manager.
This entry was posted in 2011-2012 GK12, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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