Connectedness to nature is defined as feelings of close affiliation with the natural world in a physical, cognitive, and emotional manner. Today, children are aware of the global threats to the environment, but their physical contact, their intimacy with nature, is fading.
A number of recent international surveys indicate that fewer children are experiencing nature directly, with the majority of children playing indoors more often than outdoors. Many young people are ‘glued to the virtual world’ and are far removed from nature, resulting in a lack of knowledge of biodiversity and awareness of its importance.
American social commentator Richard Louv, in his revolutionary book ‘Last Child in the Woods’ says that children now wander less, discover less and are losing some important connections with nature and place. Ultimately, children – and therefore everyone – are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature. Louv coined the term ‘nature-deficit-disorder’ to describe this phenomenon of childhood increasingly being spent indoors.
Children who disconnect from nature and stay indoors are less healthy and generally have a lower quality of life (RSPB, 2010).
Causes of Disconnection
- Urbanisation and loss of green space
- Parental fears and control
- Perceived risk of nature
- Modern lifestyles
- Increased screen time with television, computers, tabs, etc.
Why is connectedness to nature so important?
Time spent amidst nature is not a leisure time activity but it is an investment for the future. ‘Connection to nature’ is a set of constructs which refer to an individual’s subjective sense of his/her relationship with the natural world. There is emerging evidence that ‘connection to nature’ is associated with certain wellbeing, educational outcomes and pro-environmental behaviours. A variety of factors may have a vital role in the development of Connection to Nature including contact with the natural world, childhood experiences, certain interventions, and socio-cultural status. Connection to Nature can be an important influence on other environmental behaviours, practices and beliefs as well.
Advantages of connectedness to Nature
Direct connection with nature creates restorative and introspective skills, which means to love your environment and to commit to protect nature in the present context. Physical and mental health is being destroyed and so are diversity and nature contaminated. To enhance thinking on these basic necessities, nature friendly camps can be a solution. Connectedness to nature can be a way to help children who have natural deficit disorders, depression, anxiety, decision making issues, loneliness, anorexia, commitment issues, obesity, etc.
Benefits of being connected to nature
Spiritual benefits – mindfulness, compassion and gratitude, which help secrete hormones that can build energy to develop relationships and academic skills.
Emotional benefits – resonance, intimacy and fluency, which can create equilibrium in the limbic brain and also stimulate the neo cortex.
Social benefits – resilience, non-judgmental attitude, diversity, co-existence which can help to keep inter and intrapersonal relationship skills intact.
Physical benefits – it helps to develop physical health holistically.
Schools are the places to create connectedness to nature. When young people are connected to nature, it has positive impact on their education, physical health, emotional well-being and personal and social skills.
Children connected with nature are more likely to be interested in their environment and will want to enjoy and save it – now and in the future too. Schools can have different programmes like nature clubs, outings, outdoor classes, environmental day celebrations, do it yourself projects, outdoor camps, workshops, outreach programmes, etc to promote this connectedness.
Attitude of both the family and school authorities towards nature are a strong factor that can influence children’s connection to nature. Spending time with nature helps children develop a strong connection to nature. Environmental education opportunities that increase children’s knowledge and skills for solving environmental problems may help promote pro-environmental actions.
Activities to promote pro-environmental feeling and connectedness to nature
- Exhibit and arrange nature related pictures in class rooms and schools
- Show nature related movies and videos to children
- Growing indoor plants in classrooms and in the homes
- Visiting exhibitions depicting nature
- Visiting wildlife sanctuaries
- Conducting debates and discussions on environmental issues
- Outings with children to parks
- Recreation programmes like hiking, camping and wildlife viewing
- Gardening or farming in school and home
- Conservation volunteering and nature clubs
- Maximising opportunities to provide exploratory, hands-on, play-orientated experiences with – and in – nature
- Offering activities and occasional events to engage children with the natural world around them
- Nature play which includes any unstructured play outdoors, such as riding a cycle, climbing a tree, walking on grass, swimming, planting trees and fishing
Connectedness to nature should have an important place in the routine studies of children. We need to allow them to develop their biophilia, their love for the Earth, before we ask them to academically learn about nature and become guardians of it.
Further studies and efforts are needed to make nature more available to children, and to connect them with nature and empower a future generation. Experiential activities in nature provide a foundation for development of responsible environmental behaviour among children.
Khamarudheen KP is a master, social worker and a Ph D Scholar at the TATA Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai with keeninterest in child rehabilitation, school social work and life skills education. He has been involved in various rehabilitation projects for deprived and orphaned children. He played a significant leadership role in an International NGO.
He has developed unique projects for school social work and life skills education. He is an expert trainer in brain gym and has published a series of work books – ‘TRAIN THE BRAIN -a workbook that accelerates your mind’ for young children.
He is a nature enthusiast interested in developing empathy, resilience, compassion through ‘Connectedness to nature’ programmes. He is also a nature and wildlife photographer.