Children need to get outdoors because the world’s future lies in nature

WE HEAR a lot these days about a condition known as nature deficit disorder — the ill effects on children resulting from lack of direct contact with the natural world — while at the same time there were never more school programmes on the environment, writes Donal Hickey.

Children need to get outdoors because the world’s future lies in nature

Youngsters are more restricted in their movements than previous generations were, and are spending much more time indoors. Those of us who grew up in the last century, especially in rural areas, were lucky enough to enjoy the freedom of the fields, and most of our play was outdoors.

Children seem to have an instinctive love of nature. Just look at the way they are drawn to animals. If that love is nurtured, it will continue into adulthood and make them protectors of the environment.

A Heritage Council survey found supervision to be the number one barrier to children playing and experiencing the outdoors, which is understandable given the sort of world we now live in. Today, children are spending most of their time playing at home, or in playgrounds and indoor centres, all of which are closely supervised.

There’s a 23% decrease in the number of children who play in fields, a 20% decrease in those who play in wild spaces and a 19% decrease in those who play in the woods, according to the research.

At the same time, there is an increase of 5% in children who play in school playgrounds, 7% increase in those playing in school fields, 18% increase in those playing in outdoor playgrounds, and a 41% increase in numbers using indoor activity centres.

Sherkin Island Marine Station, in West Cork, which last year celebrated its 40th anniversary, focussed on children from its early days, mounting marine life exhibitions for young people, running an annual environmental competition for primary school children, and giving talks in schools.

A massive amount of research has been carried out by the station and an invaluable legacy of data has been collected, says its co-founder Matt Murphy. Looking back over the years in Sherkin Comment, he says he learnt many lessons, the main one being to always question and challenge the conventional wisdom and fashionable belief.

“It is not always true because the experts, or the media, say so,” says Mr Murphy. “A simple word, ‘why’, can open up a Pandora’s box, or Aladdin’s cave.”

The scores of volunteers who came to the station over the years showed his faith in young people was totally justified, he adds.

“They worked in all weathers, late into the night to enter the data they collected. I challenged them, continually reminding them the data would be needed away into the future.”

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