Nature Deficit Disorder? Kids at risk without “wild places”?

What do you think about the amount of time children spend in the “bush”?

Have you made a conscious decision to let your kids get “down and dirty” in the outdoors?

Do you take children camping or hiking or just exploring in “wild places”?

One of the only (maybe the only ) advantages of a long commute to work is the ability to listen to podcasts and Radio National for a couple of hours each day. Every Monday I look forward to the latest “All in the Mind” program presented by Natasha Mitchell on Radio National.

This week’s program had Richard Louv as a guest. Richard is a journalist, author and the Co-founder and Chairman of the Children & Nature Network in the U.S. He is a very impressive character and everything he spoke about is this interview rang true.

Kids in mud

What really stuck in my mind was the discussion about the ‘risk adverse” nature of many areas where our children can play and explore.

Have a think about your local school or playground.  Many in our area have changed in the last few years  to huge plastic and  metal structures (with safe rounded edges) , have  soft landing mats, no dirt, no mud and nothing interesting for kids to explore (or be placed “at risk”).  A colourful yet sterile place.

Where are the “wild places” in the city where children can explore and take risks and have fun away from structure and risk adverseness?

We have been taking our children camping since they were in nappies. National Parks or bush camping areas were our preferred spots.  There was minimal infrastructure with  basic facilities but a huge untapped mass of nature to explore. The children, often with a crowd of friends, would play games, get wet, make “cubby” huts, explore and get filthy dirty! They had terrific fun, and so did we.

A lot of these issues were discussed on “All in the Mind”. It made very interesting listening (and you can read the full transcript here .)

Richard Louv has written a book about it (of course…) – this is the summary!

Last Child in the Woods is the first book to bring together a new and growing body of research indicating that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. More than just raising an alarm, Louv offers practical solutions and simple ways to heal the broken bond—and many are right in our own backyard.

Anyone particularly interested in this topic should also head over to Gwynneth Beasley’s site (an Aussie from Queensland) and check it out.  She is passionate about giving  “children unstructured time in wild places” (and takes a mean photograph) Recommended.

Twitter fans can follow All in the Mind , Children & Nature and Richard Louv , plus of course, Frank from Our Hiking Blog

Do you take your children to wild places?

What is the youngest child you have taken camping, hiking or bushwalking?

What benefit do you think wild places give children (and adults)?

We would love you to tell us about it!


  1. says

    I agree completely, kids should grow up in the wild playing with mud and bugs. Kids who are raised by Nintendo, TV, and candy corn are not going to be as well adjusted to life in the real world – they are too insulated from our ancestry of living in the wild!

    If/when I have kids, they’ll go camping, hiking, and have the opportunity to be in whatever Scouts organization exists in my then-country-of-residence.

  2. Gwynneth Beasley says

    The most obvious benefit of being in wild places for my kids has been the calming effect nature has on them. (Research has validated this effect and nature time is being incorporated into treatment programs for kids with ADHD etc.) When my kids are scrabbling up a mountain stream, through underbrush, up a sand dune they seem to live in the moment, and quite often they are actually silent for long periods of time. When we are out bush my kids calm down to the point that I find them much easier to deal with than at home, and remarkably more easy to deal with than at a shopping centre!

  3. Terry says

    Substitute “adults” for “kids”, “nintendo” for computer/work” – its the same no matter what your age. Bushwalking is a great thing for anyone, regardless of age.

    We (boy of 9, girl of 10 and dad) do a bit, mainly spontaneous charges into the greenery for a few hours. Our most memorable was while walking the Cradle Lake loop with mum, we were all gobsmacked with what was above us and about halfway we came across a steep “shortcut”. Mum sat while we scrambled on all fours half way to the summit. We had a hoot and decamped quickly as a rain squall blew across the mountain. Back on flat ground we met an “old lady” who’d been across the summit beforehand, we were all on a high. We still talk about it! Some more organised overnight walks are in the offing.

    • Frank says

      Hi Terry,
      What a fantastic story. there is nothing loke getting your kids into the outdoors and letting them explore. We have been taking ours camping for years and now they head off on their own as youndg adults. Very rewarding!

      Glad to see you have some walks planned. It is great fun.

  4. says

    hello from the U.S.! i’m currently trying to help spread the word about nature deficit disorder and help inspire others to jump into nature with their children. i love finding folks like you who find it only natural to be outdoors! i have been hiking with my boys since they were a few days old (so thankful for soft carriers!) and now that they are both walking we all enjoy truly exploring the trails together.

    Every monday i’m doing an {into nature} post (here’s a link to today’s ). if you’re inspired to, i’d love if you’d join along in the future!

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