The Issue

The Issue

Today’s children don’t play freely outdoors the way children have always enjoyed in previous generations.

  • American children have significantly less time for unstructured play due to demanding school schedules, lifestyle changes and environmental barriers.
  • Young people spend roughly 7.5 hours a day with some form of electronic media.

Today’s children may be the first generation at risk of having a shorter lifespan than their parents. The shift to a more sedentary lifestyle has physical, social, psychological and environmental implications for a wide range of concerns that will affect our society for many years to come.

Why Has This Issue Sparked So Much Concern? 

Richard Louv’s book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, was the first book to bring together a growing body of research that shows a link between a lack of contact with nature to a wide range of problems that harm individuals, families and communities. The issues include:

  • Obesity and other physical health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and asthma
  • Depression, anxiety and stress
  • Attention-deficit disorder and other learning problems
  • Anti-social behavior and violence
  • Lack of caring and concern for nature
  • Alienation from community
  • Impacts on social and emotional intelligence
  • Decreased linguistic, sensory and imaginative capacity
  • Diminished sense of awe and wonder

In his recent book, the Nature Principle, Richard Louv focuses both on the issues and growing optimism that our generation will meet not only climate change, but the “change of climate in the human heart” and enter one of the most creative periods in human history.

Why “Unstructured Play”?

“The most important thing in the world to parents is their child’s well-being, and now we have emerging research that links children’s mental, physical and spiritual health directly to their association with nature. We can look at it this way: time in nature is not a luxury; it is essential to our children’s health.”
— Richard Louv 

Research shows that unstructured time in nature is critical to developing children’s intellectual, social, emotional and creative capacities. Structured activities such as sports, scouts, field trips, and curriculum-driven school gardens play a valuable role, but they cannot replace the brain development and emotional growth that occurs during self-directed play.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), undirected play builds physical strength and is important for brain development. Play allows children to use their creativity and imaginations. And undirected play helps children to learn to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills.

For more research about the benefits of nature, visit the Children & Nature Network.

Overcoming Challenges

Children have few opportunities for unstructured play due to decreased time due to lifestyle changes, environmental barriers, fear, and the rise of electronic media.

The Children and Nature Collaborative formed in response to the growing concern over these issues. Forward thinking and creative individuals and organizations — teachers, parents, farmers, health professionals, environmentalists, businesses, and community leaders — are engaged in a worldwide movement to create a positive impact on the health of children, families, communities, and the Earth.