What children fear most is…nature

by Paola Battista - 2013.05.31
What children fear most is…nature
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The number of children who are disoriented, lost and uncomfortable when in contact with outdoor spaces, fields, and trees is higher and higher. The name is Nature Deficit Disorder (NND), a real syndrome that would affect especially children. Its causes include losing contact with nature, animals and plants, spending most of time in indoor spaces and cities and growing up with overly cautious parents who tend to control and protect their children from outdoor dangers.

Theorised by American educator Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods (2005), this disorder has not been included in mental health medical manuals yet, such as ICD-10 or DSM-IV. However, it would cause a series of behavioural and psychic problems.

«Alienation from nature» would result not only in the well-known physical risks relating to sedentary lifestyle, including diabetes and obesity, but also in mood and attention difficulties, hyperactivity, insecurity, stress, anxiety, slower cognitive development and socialization difficulties. No to mention creativity-related implications, typical feature and right of every child: being deprived of natural environments, children do not receive new and adequately surprising stimuli and end up living unreal, yet mediated, experiences. Then, an interesting and sustainable proposal would be farm kindergarten and nurseries. What is this all about?

It’s agricultural structures combining traditional kindergarten features with learning experiences in natural environments. A pedagogic choice increasingly spread, both in Italy and abroad, as highlighted by the guidelines 2013 for «Care services for children and learning activities in farms and rural areas», citing the strongest experiences.

In Denmark, kindergarten offer learning activities focused in recycling, environmental and food education through ludic use of vegetable gardens and fruit trees. Approach activities to biodiversity are carried out in forests, together with clay, wood and tissues processing activities. Fermes pedagogiques, educational farms, are now a wide-spread tradition in France, where children are put in contact with nature through agriculture and visits to animals: imagine children’s surprise when they see for the first time cow milking, milk processing and rabbits, chicken, chicks and sheep’s nutrition.

In England, several kindergarten created «sensory gardens» to make children learn and observe how nature blossoms, while increasing their self-esteem, «role-play areas» to work on socializing, «art and craft areas» for creative and manual activities, or «book corners» for outdoor fairy tales.

Outdoor walks, sensorial games to stimulate learning and imagination, fruit and milk-based snacks. A simple solution for healthier and happier children, more educated in terms of nature, but also an opportunity to enhance unspoilt landscapes and relaunch entrepreneurship in fertile, yet underestimated, sectors, given the unemployment rate.


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