Nature-Deficit Disorder: How Children and Nature are Growing Apart

An Interview with Benjamin Ziep

Benjamin Ziep is the founder and head of the Wilderness School in Berlin. MOGLi met with him to discuss the significance of nature for child development. Why are children spending less time outdoors? And how can we promote a connection with nature? Benjamin sheds light on the so-called Nature-Deficit Disorder and explains the role of nature and wilderness educational programs. Read on to learn more!

Benjamin, why do you believe children need experiences with nature?

Research shows that profound nature experiences significantly influence the development of balance, coordination, dexterity, and the expression of emotions. Such experiences can positively impact psychomotor skills, which later reflect in school performance. Psychomotor development affects overall academic performance and concentration. It also plays a crucial role in the development of social behaviour. Based on our experience, intense nature experiences are the best and most natural way to provide children with a stable foundation for their life journey. Our long-term collaboration with kindergartens and schools in joint wilderness education programs consistently confirms this. Connecting with nature pays off!

How would you assess children's current relationship with nature?

The term "Nature-Deficit Disorder" aptly describes the situation of children and teenagers in Western societies very well. In our programmes, we often observe how children and teenagers are generally alienated from their natural environment. It usually requires an "icebreaker" and a bonding nature experience to create an open space free from fears and consumerism. Unfortunately, as age increases, alienation from nature – the absence of experiences of nature – grows exponentially.

In your opinion, how can we explain this distance from nature and the associated lack of nature experiences?

A significant factor is the artificial awakening of consumer interests and the resulting increasing consumer behaviour of society. The excessive shift towards the digital world and the misconception that a connection to nature, knowledge, and skills related to nature have no economic value or impact also distance us from nature. Based on our experience, the parents' generation's lack of their own connection or experience of nature and the associated fears are also major reasons for the alienation and Nature-Deficit Disorder in children in our society.

What can be done to counter this?

Firstly, recognising the importance of connecting with nature for the sustainable development of our society is essential. Secondly, integrating wilderness and nature education programmes into the curriculum and educational concepts of kindergartens and schools is crucial. Nature experiences should be an integral part of kindergarten and school routines!

MOGLi - the benefits to children of being in nature

What contribution can these nature and wilderness educational programmes make?

Not only do wilderness and nature educational programmes significantly aid in the personal development of children and teenagers, but they also play a pivotal role in the sustainable orientation and development of our society. In addition, since these programmes align with children's natural interests, there's no need for special, often expensive materials or technical equipment to create a good nature experience. This is a significant advantage of wilderness and nature educational programmes.

Can you elaborate further on why nature experiences are essential for child development?

As mentioned earlier, psychomotor skills significantly influence the development of children and later adults. Establishing an emotional and practical connection to nature is also crucial for the sustainable development of our society. It's essentially vital for our species!

As an expert, what advice do you have for parents?

You can foster your children's connection to nature by participating in exciting wilderness and nature educational programmes. As a parent, you can also actively inquire about nature-connecting activities in educational institutions and, of course, take your children into nature yourself.

Do you have tips for parents to motivate their kids to spend time outdoors?

Create positive incentives and engage with what children love to do. What are their favourite activities and why? Perhaps reminisce about your own childhood. What did I enjoy doing? What fascinated and motivated me? And a principle: Make it "wild and dangerous," or at least make it appear so ;).

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