October 9, 2020

Dear Parents and Guardians,

As we emerge from the Stage 4 Restrictions in Melbourne it is vital that our children continue to re-engage with physical activity and connectedness with the natural world around them.

A number of years ago I heard Richard Louv, Author and Chairman Emeritus of the Children and Nature Network (an organisation supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and communities to the natural world) speak about the importance of nature in the development of young people. He asked the audience to think about the special memories that we had as young children growing up – the places that we now find in our hearts.

I thought about those times of freedom, exploring outside after school, on the weekends and during holidays. The times when, with friends and our bikes, we would spend hours outside and return home having experienced a variety of adventures in our local area including parks. I also thought about camping and bush experiences or times collecting tadpoles or fishing for yabbies. He then challenged us to think about whether our children will have these types of places to go to in their hearts and for us to consider the implications of this; the impact on their health, development of creativity and connectedness to the world that sustains us.

We are hardwired to be emotionally connected to nature. Our ancestors were hunters and gatherers and had strong connections to the land. Louv spoke about the impact of nature, particularly on young children. Over a number of years, he has brought together work from studies and argues that direct exposure to nature is essential for a child’s healthy physical and emotional development, as well as their ability to learn. Louv has coined the term ‘nature-deficit disorder’, not as a medical diagnosis, but a description of the growing gap between human beings and nature, which he argues has implications for health and well-being of the current and future generations.

Whilst there are still many ways that people can be connected to nature, rapid urbanisation has certainly had an impact on the way this happens. Our children do not have the freedom to play and explore as we did when we were young (less open space and the fear of ‘stranger danger’) and whilst we must always have their safety as a priority, as Louv says, we must be careful not to create ‘containerised kids’. We must also be careful not to make our children fearful of nature. Our local parks connect people with nature and urban nature is just as important as wilderness to give our children the opportunities for outdoor independent play.

In his article ‘Do Our Kids Have Nature Deficit Disorder?’, Louv argues that studies in California and across the United States have shown that schools that used outdoor classrooms and other forms of nature-based experiential education such as camps, saw significant student gains in a number of other subjects across the curriculum. He also stated that researchers at the Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois have discovered that children as young as 5 showed a significant reduction in the symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder when they engaged with nature.

Recent studies have also suggested a connection between the decline in outdoor activities and the rise in both childhood Vitamin D deficiency and myopia. Studies have also suggested a similar link with childhood obesity.  Camps and opportunities to learn outside will continue to play a pivotal role in an education at CGGS.

Similarly,we are all aware of the benefits of developing physical skills and fitness through regular physical activity. Research highlights the important links between physical activity and improvement in academic performance. Being active improves blood flow to the brain and oxygenation levels enhancing levels of concentration and the ability to process, store and retrieve information.

The correlation between physical activity and positive mental health is also important when considering a young person’s wellbeing. This can occur by boosting energy levels, relieving stress, improving sleep, improving self-esteem and confidence and building meaningful relationships with others.

As we emerge from a period of significant restrictions due to the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is important that we prioritise encouraging and supporting our children (and ourselves) to continue to reconnect with physical activity and exposure to nature. Even with our current limitations, there are still many local options for exercising and family connection in our local areas.

In the coming months nurturing our health and wellbeing will continue to be important in our recovery andcan be greatly enhanced by the connectedness to physical activity and the outdoors – in doing so we also connect with the gift of nature that sustains us.

With best wishes,

Debbie Dunwoody