A new wave of programs is being developed and launched across the United States to address what one writer dubbed a “nature deficit disorder” in children – the desire to sit inside and be entertained by electronic babysitters instead of getting into the great outdoors.

The malady was identified by author Richard Louv in his book from just a few years ago, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” and he confirmed in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article:

“Anywhere, even in Colorado, the standard answer you get when you ask a kid the last time he was in the mountains is ‘I’ve never been to the mountains,’ and this is in a place where they can see the mountains outside their windows,” he said.

Now a report in the Denver Post is revealing a number of programs that have been developed to get kids looking at birds and wildlife instead of Nintendo and Gameboy.

One of those efforts is a Junior Ranger Day at Colorado National Monument, where nearly 1,000 school children recently were taken to explore the wild.

“They need a chance to get outside and dream,” Kim Sikoryak, an official with the National Park Service, told the Post.

There also is a Take Your Child to Nature Day and Congress is considering a No Child Left Inside Act to provide federal dollars for environmental education, the report said.

The U.S. Forest Service also has launched a More Kids in the Woods initiative, and a group called Children & Nature Network has grown to more than 40 chapters, according to the newspaper.

Mark DeGregorio, a worker at Rocky Mountain National Park, told the paper, “I think this has finally reached a point in our general consciousness.”

At a Junior Ranger day, kids search for fireweed and red-tailed hawks and listen to injunctions about leaving wildlife alone but never leaving trash.

Fundraising programs are being developed, and the report said the Children & Nature Network Northern Colorado already has a squadron of volunteer naturalists to encourage children to experience the wild. Even in urban settings, 3-mile hikes are being sponsored in locations like Denver’s old Stapleton Airport, a huge project to redevelop old landing strips for housing, business, retail, and wildlife.

There’s also a Teacher to Ranger to Teacher program launched in Colorado that loans classroom instructors to national parks as rangers during summers, the Post reported.

As the results are evident in the faces of the kids.

“Their whole life is structured. Everything they do is structured. When you can get them outside to play on their own, they just love it,” said Susan Schafer, of the Fort Collins Natural Areas Program, told the Post.

The Chronicle reported the gap between children and nature is just as big in California, “where there are more state and national parks than anywhere else in the country.”

That report said a recent study showed nearly one-third of teens did not take part in any nature activity outdoors during the course of an entire summer. Another 17 percent participated once.

There also are new projects in place in New York, Texas, and Michigan, among others.

In Seattle, the Post-Intelligencer told of work by Duvall’s Wilderness Awareness School, who students explore the woods, learn animal tracks and create maps.

“Scientists are finding that contact with nature can benefit kids in numerous ways, reducing symptoms of hyperactivity and attention-deficit disorders and leading to inner-city girls acting with better self-discipline. Kids in California performed better on science tests after a week in the woods. A survey found that conservation-minded adults traced those concerns to time spent in the wilderness,” the newspaper said.


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