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Parents and teachers’ concerns about health and safety have disconnected children from their land.

WHEN THE term “nature deficit disorder” was first coined by writer Richard Louv in 2005, it sounded laughable. Only in America... However, the US perspective on modern living has a habit of creeping up on us and, just seven years later, it doesn’t seem such an over-statement of the problem after all. Parents’ fear for the safety of their children combined with the lure of screens indoors means there is an increasing disconnect between youngsters and the natural world.The effects of this on their physical and mental health are seen, it is argued, in rising figures for childhood obesity, attention-deficit problems and depression.

Some 60 per cent of Ireland’s population now lives in cities or towns and, even in rural areas, children are so often driven from A to B, they may have little opportunity to engage with the landscape around them. Farmers’ markets, which have become increasingly popular in urban areas over the past decade, go some way to bridging what was an ever-widening gulf between the consumption of food and its origin.

Consumers have more interest now in “local food” and meeting the people who produce it. “All those free play experiences in the natural world – building forts and picking your own paths in the woods – are the basis for environmental values and behaviours in adulthood,” he points out. “If we don’t have kids out doing that stuff, we are ensuring they will not be environmentally responsible when they get older. ”Teachers are uncomfortable taking children outside, agrees Sobel. “They don’t know how to create good outdoor learning environments and good outdoor learning expectations.” They have to get it across to children they are not going out for a break but for learning.

Signs of Nature-Deficit Disorder - even in rural Ireland. Parents and teachers’ concerns about he...