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Nature-Deficit and the Benefits of Outdoor Play

“The National Parks and Recreation Association has identified nature-deficit disorder, or the lack of children getting outdoors to play, as one of the critical trends of our times” (Hoover, 2008, p.68).  The Meadow Center is truly an outdoor classroom on the front lines of battling nature-deficit.  We use the concept of creative play to engage students in hands on science learning.  Our outdoor green space is the prime location for activities that include students modeling food chains, demonstrating scientific processes and methods, conducting field investigations, learning about Native American and the history of San Marcos, and exploring water conservation.  


Risks of Nature-Deficit

          Studies show that U.S. children spend half as much time in nature as kids did 20 years ago (“Connecting Kids with Nature”, 2008, p.56). 

          Carter Smith, Executive Director Texas Parks and Wildlife, 2010

          Children today spend an average of 7.5 hours a day using electronic media such as TV, computers, video games and music players- equivalent to a full-time job. 

          A child is 6 times more likely to play a video game than ride a bike. 

          Kids age 3 to 12 spend only 1% of their time outdoors, compared to 27% watching video

          Nature-deficit has been linked to ADHD, depression, and obesity in children.

          The Texas Children’s Hospital Reports (“Preventing Childhood Obesity”, 2011): 

         More than 40% of all Texas Children are overweight.

         More prone to heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

         Overweight children often experience low self-esteem and depression

         An obese 12 year-old has a 75% chance of staying obese as an adult. 

          “If children don't care about nature today, they won't care about conserving it tomorrow when they're adults” (Lowell, 2008, p.218).


Benefits of Outdoor Play

Along with meeting Texas Educational Standards our educational programs have several other benefits: 



          Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces (National Wildlife Federation)

          Outdoor play increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies, an important strategy in helping the one in three American kids who are obese7 get fit (National Wildlife Federation)

          Spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues (National Wildlife Federation)

          Being out there improves distance vision and lowers the chance of nearsightedness (National Wildlife Federation)


          “New research suggests that play and down time may be as important to a child’s academic experience as reading, science and math, and that regular recess, fitness or nature time can influence behavior, concentration and even grades” (Parker-Pope, 2009, p.1).

          "New studies suggest that exposure to nature may reduce symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and that it can improve all children's cognitive abilities and resistance to negative stresses and depression" (Louv, 2006, p. 34).

          Exposure to environment-based education significantly increases student performance on tests of their critical thinking skills (National Wildlife Federation)

          Schools with environmental education programs score higher on standardized tests in math, reading, writing and listening (National Wildlife Federation)


          Children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces (National Wildlife Federation)

          Play protects children’s emotional development whereas loss of free time and a hurried lifestyle can contribute to anxiety and depression (National Wildlife Federation)

          Nature makes you nicer, enhancing social interactions, value for community and close relationships (National Wildlife Federation)

          Develops a sense of place in the environment

Outdoor Classroom



           Nature Rocks Austin, Children in Nature Collaborative of Texas, http://naturerocksaustin.org/

           Texas Parks and Wildlife, www.tpwd.org

           National Wildlife Federation, www.BeOutThere.org

           Connecting Kids with Nature. (2008, August). National Wildlife, Retrieved March 8, 2009, from Environment Complete database. 

           Fischer, C. (2008, June). Naturalist Teaching & Learning. Research Starters Education: Naturalist Teaching & Learning, Retrieved March 8, 2009, from Research Starters - Education database.                 

           Hoover, D. (2008, March). Children + Nature. Parks & Recreation, 43(3), 68-69. Retrieved March 8, 2009, from Environment Complete database.                     

           House of Representatives Approves No Child Left Inside Act. (2008, October 6). NSTA Express, Retrieved April 3, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.

           Louv, Richard (2006).  Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 

           Louv, R. (2008, June). Paul F-Brandwein Lecture 2007: A Brief History of the Children & Nature Movement. Journal of Science Education & Technology, 17(3), 217-218. Retrieved March 8, 2009, from Education Research Complete. 

           Lowell, C. (2008, October 1). Beyond the Lorax? The Greening of the American Curriculum. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(3), 218-222. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. EJ819585) Retrieved March 8, 2009, from ERIC database. 

           Pine, S. (2008, December). No Child Left Inside Victory. Parks & Recreation, 43(12), 16-16. Retrieved April 3, 2009, from Environment Complete database. 

           Parker-Pope, Tara. (2009, February 23).  Give Recess Its Due. New York Times. Article posted to http://www.childrenandnature.org/news/detail/new_york_times_give_recess_its_due