In his groundbreaking work, The Last Child in the Woods, child advocacy expert Richard Louv spotlights the alienation of children from the natural world, coining the term nature-deficit disorder and linking it to some of the most disturbing childhood trends, such as rises in obesity, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and depression.
Nature-based experience education (NBEE) includes programs that take place in natural settings and emphasizes hands-on learning. NBEE programs can vary in focus, but they often include activities such as hiking, camping, fishing, gardening, and environmental science education.
NBEE benefits children in many ways, including:
- Improved mental health: Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, and improve mood and cognitive function. This is especially important for disadvantaged youth, who are more likely to experience these mental health challenges.
- Improved physical health: Spending time outdoors also has many physical health benefits, including reducing the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. This is important for all youth, but especially for disadvantaged youth, who are more likely to suffer from these chronic health conditions.
- Problem-solving skills: Nature education often involves hands-on activities and challenges that require students to work together to solve problems. This helps to develop critical thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and teamwork skills.
- Increased academic performance: Studies have shown that students who participate in nature education programs tend to perform better academically than those who do not. This is likely due to improved cognitive function, increased motivation, and reduced stress levels.
- Environmental awareness: Nature education helps students to learn about the natural world and the importance of environmental protection. This is essential for all youth, but especially for disadvantaged youth, who are more likely to live in areas that are disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and degradation.
In addition to these general benefits, nature education can also provide specific benefits to disadvantaged, at-risk youth from the inner city, including:
- Improve social skills: Nature education often involves activities that require students to interact with each other in a cooperative and supportive way. This can help to improve social skills and reduce isolation among disadvantaged youth.
- Increase self-confidence: Nature education can help disadvantaged youth to develop a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. This is important because disadvantaged youth are more likely to have low self-esteem.
- Reduce violence and crime: Studies have shown that spending time in nature can reduce aggression and antisocial behavior. This is important for disadvantaged youth, who are more prone to the dangers of likely to be victims of violence and crime.
NBEE has been shown to have a number of benefits for children, including improved cognitive function, physical health, and social-emotional well-being. These benefits are especially important for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, children from single parent homes, homeless children and others.
Social well-being refers to a person’s ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships, participate in social activities, and contribute to their community. NBEE can have a positive impact on social well-being in a number of ways.
First, NBEE can help children to develop social skills such as communication, cooperation, and problem-solving. These skills are essential for building and maintaining relationships. NBEE activities often require children to work together to achieve a common goal, which can help them to learn how to communicate effectively, cooperate with others, and solve problems together.
Second, NBEE can help children to develop a sense of community. NBEE programs often involve children from different backgrounds, which can help them to learn about and appreciate different cultures and perspectives. Additionally, NBEE activities often provide children with opportunities to interact with adults and other mentors who can support their social and emotional development.
Third, NBEE can help children to develop a sense of belonging. Spending time in nature can help children to feel connected to something larger than themselves. Additionally, NBEE programs often provide children with a sense of belonging to a community of learners.
Impact on Children from Economically Disadvantaged Circumstances
Children from economically disadvantaged circumstances are more likely to experience challenges to their social well-being. For example, they may be more likely to live in neighborhoods with high levels of crime and poverty, which can make it difficult to form and maintain safe and supportive relationships. Additionally, they may be less likely to have access to quality educational and recreational opportunities, which can limit their opportunities to develop social skills and connect with others. In the unfortunate event of child homelessness, mere survival on a day to day basis severely limits the horizons those children can see.
By providing children with opportunities to develop social skills, connect with nature, and build relationships with others, NBEE can help them to thrive.
Since 1997, Wilderness Works has delivered cognitive, emotional, physical and social developmental experiences to vulnerable, at-risk children. With experiences, relationships and much more Wilderness Works is a positive alternative needed by all children, especially economically disadvantaged children.
As an advocate for children from disadvantaged and often challenging circumstances, Wilderness Works has seen firsthand the positive impact that NBEE can have on children faced with difficult living situations. Many students have participated in NBEE programs, and they have shared with us the ways that these programs have helped them to grow and thrive.
One of the most important benefits of NBEE is that it can help children to develop a sense of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is the belief in one’s ability to succeed. Children from economically disadvantaged situations may have taken on messages that they cannot succeed, due to their background or circumstances. However, NBEE programs provides these children with opportunities to experience success in a variety of areas, such as academics, athletics, and outdoor skills. This can help them to develop a belief in their own abilities and potential.
Another important benefit of NBEE is that it can help children to develop a sense of belonging. Children from challenging life circumstances may often feel like they do not belong anywhere. NBEE programs can provide these children with a sense of belonging to a community of learners who support each other and share their interests. This can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness