Nature that Nurtures. Or, a Classroom May Be Dangerous to Your Health

Before I became a classroom teacher, I spent most of my time outdoors. For a while, I was spending more than 100 days each year sleeping outside, often waking with the sunrise and working with adult clients or younger students in the forests or on the beaches in Washington State.

Rosewig in a kayak

Louv calls this a “restorative environment.”

Sometimes I forget what an adjustment it was to spend all day inside. These days, being inside more than out feels normal, but there are some serious indications that, scientifically speaking, spending too much time inside could really be harming my students and me. Could we all be suffering from “nature deficit disorder”?

Richard Louv (2005) wrote an interesting book called Last Child in the Woods in which he makes a convincing case for why young people need more time outside. He points out that we are prescribing more and more ADHD medication to kids, and childhood obesity is rising, and asks whether these and other challenges kids face are related to spending less time outdoors. He calls the problem “nature deficit disorder.” Natural spaces, he claims, provide open-ended chances to play, create, and invent — exactly the kind of activities that, when we don’t get them, are liable to make us inattentive, restless, and maybe even miserable.

It isn’t just young people, though, who benefit from being around nature. Louv also discusses research done by psychologists at the University of Michigan comparing office workers who did or did not have a view of trees and bushes out their windows. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that they found workers who could see leafy green growing things to be happier and less frustrated than workers who only saw concrete and glass. Swedish researchers have found similar positive effects for people who took forty-minute breaks to walk in a natural park area. When those workers returned, they were able to pay better attention and felt less anger than co-workers who had spent their break walking the city streets.

Researchers in Denmark (Hahn IA, et al. 2011) found a slight indication that working outdoors could help prevent seasonal depression, but their results weren’t particularly strong. Nevertheless, I agree with the Danes that this is a subject worth studying further — especially if it gets me outside on the WCC campus with my classes more.

Hann, I.A., Grynderup, M.B., Dalsgaard, S.B., Thomsen, J.F., Hansen, A.M., Kærgaard, A., et al. (2011 Sept.) Does outdoor work during the winter season protect against depression and mood difficulties?. Scandinavian Journal of Work Environmental Health. 37(5):446-9.
Louv, R. (2005) Last Child in the Woods. New York: Workman Publishing.


17 thoughts on “Nature that Nurtures. Or, a Classroom May Be Dangerous to Your Health

  1. I agree with what Richard Louv said about kids spending less time outside and it causing more obesity because when I was younger I spent all day outside climbing fences,trees, and acting like I was secret spy agent, but now as I get older I witness my own smaller cousins spend a lot more time on the computer and video games, lacking the excerise they need for their bodies.

  2. I agree that being outside is good for you. When I was growing up, we spent each summer day outside and told to be home, “when the street lights come on”. I think a lot of activities young people do for recreation now, ie. Twitter, Facebook, videogaming lose the benefits of being out in nature, soaking up sunshine, and getting some exercise. I wonder how many kids today know the games, 4 Square, Kick the Can, or Chinese Jumprope? I still love to be outside and try to get out as often as I can.

  3. I often find that I look back on parts of my past with rose colored glasses, remembering things with fondness and forgetting any unpleasantness. For this reason it is hard to know for sure if my memories are trustworthy. Even so, what I do remember from my years spent as a field researcher and an urban farmer–spending my days outdoors–involved feeling grounded and happy. I feel that working outside and taking time to be with the world directly, and not on a screen, had a calming effect on my life. Having this time made me feel more sure of who I am and my place in the world. These can be hard things to find in a classroom or a cubicle where we are contained in highly controlled physical and mental spaces. Now that I work indoors I still find mental and physical refuge in urban parks, a community garden, and my bicycle ride along the Huron River.

    An additional opinion piece I found on the topic:

  4. When I first saw the quote from Richard Louv, I was curious (and a little doubtful) on how spending less time outside correlated with ADHD. But, when I read on and saw the study about the workers, it became clear to me how the two go hand in hand. I will definitely spend more time outside after reading this. Thank you.

  5. Yes, that sounds like a great idea. We should have more classes outdoors. I believe we could have breaks in class that involved walking outside for a bit, or have classes outside weekly to have us not get the “Nature Deficit Disorder”.

  6. I also agree with Richard Louv’s idea of “nature deficit disorder.” It makes a lot of sense to me because not only is it nice and relaxing to be outside, but also, there is proof that it is actually healthy. Recently, my doctor told me that many people are Vitamin D deficient, which can be very easily taken care of. Sunlight will provide us with that Vitamin D, so by just going outside we can help ourselves be more healthy. Because this study shows positive affects towards work performance and ability, I wonder if schools would be interested in learning more about the benefits and possibly incorporating more outdoor activities into their curriculum.

  7. I completely agree with Richard Louv, although learning and studying outside can be distracting at certain points in time, it’s also very relaxing to sit in the grass and hear all the outside noises. Also I like how you gave a brief description on how you used to spend your summers at the beginning of the article.

  8. I believe that as a student, one whom has both class indoors and outdoors, that if you can balance the two evenly, without disrupting the flow of knowledge you get out of a class, you could be more successful and even happier. To be outside, for me, always makes me more attentive and much more involved with the class, rather than sitting and listening to a lecture followed by notes with pictures of the topic. To see the topic in person is much more effective to the flow of learning.

  9. I definitely agree with Richard Louv and his idea about nature deficit disorder. Sunlight is very healthy for us as humans, and a lack of that can lead to vitamin D deficiency and “seasonal affective disorder” which is depression that some people develop during the winter because of a lack of sunlight. Knowing that, and actually having a vitamin D deficiency myself because of a lack of sunlight in my life, I can definitely understand why Louv would conclude that since our generation has lesser exposure to natural sunlight and outside activities, it is having negative affects on us all.

  10. I really believe that spending outside more than inside is very good because you can feel the soft warmth in the air. And its very calm and peaceful, and sunny, than staying inside. Staying inside is so depressing because the only thing your doing is watching TV and playing games. Also you should know that there a time limit on how long you should be playing video games, because the games are making you feel dizzy. And going outside for any outside adventure, you can learn new stuff, stay active and be happy, than staying at home, eating a bunch of food because of boredom and such.

  11. I agree. We as people should spend a way lot more time outdoors. It builds character, and we could learn academically based also. Also, I liked how you cited books and analyzed them instead of just using websites. Keep Writing 🙂

    • This post touches on a lot of topics that need to be covered more often. I think that spending more time outdoors would be a great way to start really getting into the nature. I feel like Richard Louv’s ideas on nature deficit disorder are important and I totally agree with him on this. As Americans we lspend too mhch time indoors doing mothing when we could be outdoors stsying active and healthy.

  12. I like the focus you took on writing this post! I agree that people in general should spend a greater amount of time outside, just because it is healthy for us, and not getting enough hours in the sun can take a terrible toll on our lives. I could connect to the section on ADHD, because in fact I have it and the need for medicine isn’t what “calms” and “reduces” it, it’s making it worse. People who have ADHD, aren’t mentally ill, it’s the lack of attention paid to a situation for a long period of time. Sitting in a buliding all day isn’t necesarily the “key.” Being able to get out and run, or even walk around could easily reduce the desire to not pay attention. Along with obesity. A little walking or running a day could contribute to weight loss, or for that matter, stop weight gain. All in all, I agree with the post in its entirety and encourage you to do more writing!

  13. I completely agree with what Richard Louv is saying in his piece. Not only is it interesting, but it makes me question many of the typical public school techniques that we have been practicing most of our lives. Why have we only been taught in classrooms? It makes me wonder, if workers are happier in an area where they are exposed to nature, wouldn’t that make students happier too?Because if being outdoors in in the workforce is beneficial, I think that it would be even more beneficial with academics, especially at a young age. Overall, I found this piece super interesting, as well as puzzling.

  14. This is really interesting to think about. Back when I was young, I’d remember being outside until the sun started to set and the street lights came on. Though now with schools making kids stop having recess by middle school and the streets becoming more and more dangerous, we worry about the safety of children everywhere. But when do people get to a point where they tell themselves their kids are becoming obsessed with the TV screen and the convenient junk foods.
    Very good ‘food for thought’ piece.
    Pun intended.

  15. Well, I think we did our best to stave off the effects of nature deficit disorder this afternoon. Our little flotilla hit that river like Admiral Lord Nelson hit the English Channel. I was particularly pleased to show off my swimming skills while getting really connected to the river.

  16. (Late reply) This is really interesting. First1 wow a hundred days spent sleeping outside each year?! That’s intense. I could imagine how much of an adjustment it would be to spend a day indoors. Second- The beaches in Washington State are amazing. Third- I totally agree, I think that too much nurture causes more fear of ADHD and it’s only increasing. More and more parents are allowing their kids to be indoors more and with all this new technology, it distracts the kids from playing outside like the good old days and causes more obesity rates. It also makes our immune system weaker because parent’s do everything they can to avoid exposure to bacteria, when in reality, we need some bacteria. The days we didn’t have all these vaccines and technology and everyone was constantly outside they were fine, right?

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