Nature Deficit Disorder and Free Range Childhood: what’s in a metaphor?

Following the successful Play and Health seminar hosted by Play England on 20th March, Cath Prisk, Director of Play England, tweeted “We need national research on Nature Deficit Disorder and how it’s affecting kids across the country”. I replied with a plea not to adopt the term ‘nature deficit disorder’. Cath’s response was to challenge me to come up with another call to action which could be as compelling, and I do so in this guest blog. The metaphor I wish to promote is not new or original, but I will argue it is a healthier metaphor.

It is the concept of free range childhood.

This piece starts from the premise that playing out is an important aspect of childhood that brings a number of benefits both to children’s lives today and for the future. It also accepts that overall, children play out less than in the first half of last century, although there are big variations across social stratifications such as class, age, gender, ethnicity, ability and geography, and in many places children do still play out (see the evidence for this in Play for a Change). As an aside, the street has long been a site of concern about its suitability as a place to play, both in terms of health & safety and moral panics, but this is not my focus here.

What this piece contests is how we as adults should be framing the issue, and this is reflected in the choice of metaphor used as shorthand to communicate problems and solutions. In our soundbite, 140-character world, the connotations attached to such metaphors take hold and give rise to a discourse that influences our relationships with children. Given structural inequalities across social divisions, this matters.

What is wrong with ‘nature deficit disorder’ as a call to action?

Credit: Shiremoor Adventure Playground

The term was coined by Richard Louv in his book Last Child in the Woods. In it he states clearly that the term is not a recognised medical condition but a metaphor. However, a quick internet search for the term yields 926,000 results (but just two on the first page of Google scholar results, one of which was Louv’s book).

This shows just how much and how quickly it has taken hold as a metaphor in everyday language but less so in academic research. Most recently, it has been adopted by the National Trust’s two-month inquiry into ‘natural childhood’ and the publication of their report.

Here’s why I think it is a bad idea:

1) It medicalises children

Portraying the reduction in playing out as a childhood disorder places it as a problem within the child that then needs some form of professional (or at least adult) intervention to cure or normalise.The parallel here is with the medical and social models of disability; bringing a social model to the lack of children playing out would place the problem in the way society is organised rather than in the child.

2)     It is a deficit model

As an extension of the medicalisation argument, the metaphor creates the notion of a ‘need’ to be met. Rather than acknowledging that children can and do make everyday decisions about how to live their own lives, it renders them passive sponges soaking up whatever socialisation adults deliver to them. This way of seeing things is only a small hop and a jump towards the idea that childhood needs ‘saving’ in some way.

Indeed, the subtitle of Richard Louv’s book is ‘Saving our children from nature deficit disorder’ and, it could be argued, the same redemptive discourse has been used by the National Trust.

Understanding children as needy has an effect on adults’ relationships with them. Research from the US suggests that maybe this (predominantly middle class) over-protective child-centred construct of need creates dependent children. Adults don’t need to ‘provide’ play (how can a subjective experience be provided?), but we do need to provide the conditions that support it.

3) It creates a need for separate experience and therefore dependency on adults

Credit: Playing Out/Kamina Walton

There is insufficient space here to debate what is meant by ‘nature’ in this metaphor. How much nature makes a space natural? What is the difference between playing out and contact with nature?

Tim Gill confronts this question in his literature review for the Sowing the Seeds report. Elsewhere, for example in the National Trust report, the benefits of physical play, outdoor play and contact with nature are conflated.

There is potentially a class bias to this, leading Alice Ferguson, co-founder of the Bristol-based Playing Out project, to tweet, “What we don’t want is Middle England to react by taking kids to NT properties in 4x4s! Parents schlepping kids to ‘nature’ by car could add to problem for those stuck in the city!”

4) It oversimplifies relationships between nature and technology

The National Trust opens its discussion on nature deficit disorder in its report Natural Childhood with statements about children’s use of screen-based technology. Although the discussion itself is measured, the shorthand metaphor sets technology up as the evil that has distanced children from nature, as evidenced in the statistic (picked up enthusiastically by media reports) that nine out of ten children could recognise a Dalek but only one in three could identify a magpie.

Credit: Nick Jackson

In our tiny and over-populated island there is precious little space left that has not been affected by technology, whether that be urbanisation, industrialisation, farming or environmental management. Children do not make such a distinction, as this anecdote from a recent discussion between our postgrad students on our Play and Playwork course at the University of Gloucestershire illustrates:

“I think that a lot of the divide that we see is not shared by children. As an example I’m attaching a picture of my son and his friend taken a few years ago. They’d climbed up this huge tree after an afternoon of den making and playing in the woods, and had been posting a stream of Facebook messages and pictures of their activities – to them it was natural!”

5) It is future-focussed and assumes linear causality

Much of the argument about the benefits of contact with nature and therefore the problems of its lack centres around children’s development. Playing outside, and particularly playing with nature is assumed to reap specific benefits in a direct causal manner. And the development most prized is academic achievement.

This is most starkly seen in Louv’s blog post entitled ‘Want your kids to get into Harvard? Tell ‘em to go outside!’ Apart from the improbability of such a direct causal link, with fees for 2012-2013 at $38,480 a year, it’s not hard to guess the target parent he is aiming to reach.

Why I prefer ‘free range childhood’

I suggest that this metaphor would serve a wider group of children better. With 85,300 results from an internet search, it is up there with ‘nature deficit disorder’ as a concept to capture the imagination. It is still firmly entrenched in the romantic construct of childhood, but perhaps this is no bad thing for a ‘call to action’.

However, rather than a deficit model, this metaphor acknowledges children’s own ability to take time and space for play if the conditions are right. It constructs the problem as being with the way things are set up, not with children themselves. It addresses directly the problem of adult attitudes towards children, particularly in terms of over-protection and being seen as ‘out of place’ in the public realm (see Lenore Skenazy’s book and blog for examples).

It can happily encompass the benefits of urban outdoor play as well as rural or nature idylls. It acknowledges the value of going out to play in children’s immediate neighbourhood, rather than being chaperoned to separate spots of nature under adult supervision. It allows for some interesting comparisons with the ways in which the law requires humane treatment of animals.

In addition, it requires us to address the way we as adults organise things. Specifically, it allows us to address the imbalance between the priority given to cars and to children, perhaps the most important barrier to a free range childhood.

Tim Gill shows how the car has led to the shrinking of children’s independent mobility, through traffic danger, car dependence and car-centred town planning.

This is the line that Sustrans have taken in their campaign ‘Free Range Kids‘. It’s also the line Play England is taking, emphasising ‘freedom to play’.

I’d suggest ‘Free Range Childhood’ is where we should all be focusing our attention. What do you think?

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Comments
32 Responses to “Nature Deficit Disorder and Free Range Childhood: what’s in a metaphor?”
  1. Penny Martin says:

    What an interesting discussion! Thanks for the article Wendy. It has crystallised the slightly queasy feelings I have had regarding the term NDD but not the sentiments behind it. There is some similarity between the welfare movement for ‘free range’ livestock and ‘free range’ children (and families/ communities) based on the fundamental need to provide an environment that provides the potential for the child (or animal) to exhibit its full repetoire of natural behaviour and meet the need for mental and physical stimulation/ development while avoiding being over stressed (the ‘wild’ can create its own stressors). These opportunities can arise in a messy natural play area outdoors as well as a forest in the wilderness. So contexts and settings can vary, but contact with nature does seem to be key for mental well being. It tends to be a gut feeeling. Look at the demonstrations by ordinary people in Turkey to defend a central city park from shopping plaza ‘development’. By the way, Nicola, to add to what Kacey has said, Forest School, delivered according to an agreed ethos and principle, should not just be day care in the woods. It goes much deeper than that, and is a client/ child led programme that can support a range of groups from children to young people and families.

  2. Thank you for the absolutely super article. Will now more stop by. Greetings from Cologne

  3. I personally contemplate precisely why you labeled this blog,
    “Nature Deficit Disorder and Free Range Childhood: what’s in a metaphor?

    Love Outdoor Play”. In any case I actually appreciated the article!
    Thanks-Charmain

  4. USA address says:

    Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.
    Nice words, dude :)

  5. xlanza says:

    Thanks for starting this wonderful debate! For my part, I’d like to “throw another hat into the ring,” so to speak: the concept of a “Playborhood.”

    That comes from my blog, Playborhood.com (if you prefer “Playbourhood.com” that’ll get you there, too!), and my *just* published book, “Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play.”

    Here’s my case: In order to be solved, this “play deficit problem” must be viewed as largely a complex social problem, and the other terms don’t suggest this. “Nature deficit disorder” and “free range kids” suggest simple, individual kid solutions. For the former, the implied solution is, “get the kid(s) into nature!” For the latter, the implied solution is, “let the kid(s) run free!” I’m highly skeptical that either of these will create the long-term cultural change that’s necessary to get kids outside playing every day.

    Instead, my fundamental “Playborhood approach” is for families to work with neighbor families to make their neighborhoods into inviting places where kids want to be. “Free range” is a nice ideal, but let’s face it, setting kids free isn’t going to solve any long-term problems. In order for kids to have fulfilling lives once they’re set free, they need to be surrounded by lots of familiar people – adults and kids.

    Another way of looking at the differences between “Nature Deficit Disorder,” “Free Range Kids,” and “Playborhood” is to consider the places to which each refers. “Nature” is just not very accessible to most kids, on their own, without adult intervention. “Free range” implies anywhere outside the house, without any hint that the kid knows anyone there. Often, this isn’t a nurturing environment where a kid can develop best. “Playborhood” implies “neighborhood” (or “neighbourhood”), which is, I believe, the *only* place where kids can play outdoors and learn how to become independent, self-reliant people. With the assistance of parents or other caregivers, it can be a nurturing place where kids can benefit from friendly “eyes on the street,” even when their parents aren’t hovering over them.

    What do you all think?

    • Mark Gladwin says:

      Thanks xlanza! This adds another important strand to the debate, and I am curious to read about the concept of Playbo(u)rhood, which sounds like a useful meme to collapse the slightly clumsy “play friendly neighbourhood” into something more media-friendly. It’s certainly true that the social as well as spatial characteristics of neighbourhoods are key to whether or not children feel free to play out. I would question, though, whether all of children’s play needs can be met only with friendly adults and other children around. Part of the point of freedom to play out – whether in “natural” environments or not – is that it can take you away from the safe and comfortable. Play is sometimes solitary, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes other strange things, and our assertion of the “right” to play needs to acknowledge that. This is why the concept of free range is useful. But there need be no contradiction between either “free range” or “nature deficit” concepts, and moves to create play friendly neighbourhoods – the reverse in fact. A really nurturing neighbourhood, besides the presence of friendly people, is surely one where children can range freely and where “nature” is not out of reach to them.

      • xlanza says:

        Mark – Certainly, a kid’s free play doesn’t have to be contained within a close neighborhood, where he or she is surrounded by familiar adults and kids. However, I strongly believe that free play must *start* there. “Free range” is an empty concept without a familiar neighborhood home base.

  6. Tim Gill says:

    I think the free-range chickens analogy supports my views (and Arthur’s). The shift away from factory farming was driven not by visions of happy animals, but by horrific images of battery hens (for me it was the Animals Film back in the 80s).

  7. plexity says:

    Juliet said:

    “Saying that, /…/look at the huge publicity this report has generated. Would this have happened if another term/metaphor had been used?”

    Precisely.

    That’s the point: Louv coined a wonderful ‘meme’ which the media can’t resist.

    Columnists get whole columns from the clearly-signalled lampooning of ADD, editors love it, telly news loves it, local news loves it, wish I’d thought of it…(maybe that’s the point?)

    What is the target audience for this website? Did ‘Free range childhood’ have the same impact when Tim Gill deployed that phrase in his book a few years back? What is the target audience for Wendy’s piece – is it in the right place? If this website is for ordinary mums and dads – well, thankfully they won’t have read this far, so I might as well drone on a bit more, preaching to the converted, and finish my point:

    Let’s stay focussed on the issue – more kids playing out.

    Fair play to Richard Louv, fair play to the National Trust(lose the dopey ‘Power Rangers’ though).

    Free play, Playing Out(Hello Alice!), NDD, Free range childhood, wotevs.

    I’m off to the chemist to get some more Lusparteme, Dinipleyin, Grutemor, Piagetol, Academerol, Eyeshudcocodamol, and that old stand-by, Ludostrategin…

  8. Hi Wendy

    Wow! This post has certainly generated debate. If I don’t like a term then I don’t use it. So I don’t use “Nature Deficit Disorder” because it’s not my cup of tea for many of the reasons you’ve mentioned.

    Nevertheless it is quite amazing the impact world-wide of Richard Louv’s book – a personal and emotive appeal that has generated a huge movement of people who understand and can associate with his sentiments and perspective. Furthermore I’m impressed with his commitment to this cause – profits from his keynotes, etc. go to Children & Nature Network.

    I’m a little puzzled by the alternative to NDD as “Free Range Childhood” because the latter term misses the point about the need for children spend time in natural spaces and have contact with nature. My understanding is that this is the key message of “Last Child in the Woods” – beyond the freedom issues

    Saying that, I’m surprised that the National Trust decided to go with the NDD metaphor … however look at the huge publicity this report has generated. Would this have happened if another term/metaphor had been used?

  9. opalcic says:

    I agree Wendy. I don’t feel comfortable with a medicalised and deficient model. I take a free range chicken to all of my talks and have been doing so for years. It is a very simple message to convey: We care more about our food having access to sufficient time and quality of space outdoors than we do about our children.

    At every school I work in I challenge them by asking are your children free range? The challenges I set them are not based anything from the play world or from the Government but from EU legislation on food standards. If your children were chickens or pigs would they meet the minimum standards for amount of outdoor space, quality of environment and time spent using that space all year round?

    The disorder is not with the children, the disorder is with the adults who think that effective production costs per unit of deliverable outcome trumps quality of life. Market forces are very similar in food production and education. If it was as unacceptable to deprive children from daily access to natural space as it was for our food we would start to change our culture.

    How did the free range food movement come about? What makes people change from buying battery eggs to free range ones. If you want to know watch the advert for Happy Eggs. http://www.tellyads.com/show_movie.php?filename=TA11904

    Yes happy chickens need to run jump and play,but we will need years of scientific research and clear evidence to find out if this could possibly also be true for children.

  10. I find this a very interesting discussion. Luov’s book made a huge impact on me – I adored it, it chimed with so much of my experience of doing all sorts of stuff with kids outdoors as both an environmental educator and a parent. In fact I think I became a parent at least partly because I was being stopped from doing many of the things I had most enjoyed doing with kids (including wading through streams, touching freshwater, eating stuff etc.) ceased to be permissible. So I loved Luov, whilst recognising uncomfortably and sadly the lack of evidence and the pseudo science.

    I think Wendy’s analysis is correct and, whatever it’s initial appeal to funders, the weakness of the science behind NDD term will prove fatal. The medicalising aspects and her arguments about adult/child relationships had not occurred to me but make perfect and profound sense.

    My major concern here however is that we do not become factionalised and distracted by issues of pure semantics. There seems to be a movement, maybe a wave, starting here that is powered by a range of concerns. I am sure these are valid and important. We do need to discuss what we want to achieve and I hope this debate moves into that direction, not a sterile and stagnating one about semantics. We need to find words that bring us together and unite us about what we want to see change.

    My experience is that it is more attractive to describe the benefits we wish to bring about than the dangers we want to move from (although I have to agree that funders and politicians are often more swayed by the latter).

    And there are almost always more then two alternatives.

  11. Wendy I was intrigued by your take on this and ‘free range kids/childhood’ definitely feels more appropriate in this context. The whole point is to encourage behaviour change amongst parents, carers, grandparents and the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ definitely could add to the burden of guilt that many parents experience around issues such as obesity, education, exercise etc , so this in fact could simple turn off the very audience that it is aimed at. However it is a very useful way to gain media attention, and in some ways this can be helpful.

    At visitwoods.org.uk we are trying hard to promote the huge benefits that woodland can offer to a number of audiences, but with regards to children, our focus is on woods being fairly unique in their scope for unstructured play that is actually child-led and purely ‘adult-enabled’, with emphasis on fun and freedom.

    We are currently thinking about a response to the consultation and your blog (and responses!) have given us much pause for thought…

  12. Interesting reading all comments and Wendy’s starting points for discussion. Thanks for being part of shifting the debate towards a healthier premise about children outside! ‘Free range’ does flag up current contexts in our cultural psyche relating to something to be consumed and middle class-ness.
    For those of us involved in this shift, its worth reminding ourselves that we are doing well turning around the juggernaut of perception about play, and especially play outside – wherever that is!
    Wendy, I think you have made a great move in the process of steering thinking away from very adult concepts – and controls – of ‘deficiets’. NDD has been a great starting point as it acknowledges what is; now its time for the holistic child to be seen….. and that’s a Can Do World we move into!

  13. Wendy Russell says:

    I’m glad this post is generating debate. My beef is not that there is an issue, or that as adults we have some responsibility to do something about the issue. That said, I feel strongly that ‘the issue’ is not uniform for all children. Nor is it simple: as adults we should be treading lightly and with great care. My argument is that such emotive metaphors have the potential to be overstetched and thereby create the very thing they were designed to prevent.

    Tim: I’m keen to respond to your post but will wait fo others to first.

  14. Mairi Stones says:

    Thanks for this piece, thought provoking indeed. I have just written a blog myself where I used the term nature Deficit Disorder, and after reading this perhaps I would have used different terms. I’m not sure about free rang since that is already used in home education circles but certainly something which is about children and NOT the adults and what they need to do. For me with 13 year old twins what I have seen is their increasing reluctance to go out as more and more screen availability has come into their lives, and of course it may be to do with their age and stage. They are not surrounded by electronic games and devices but the lure is still strong, and in me too, so I must walk my talk. Anyway it’s a wonderful topic and fascinating subject and one I am happy to be involved in. Very glad to have found Love Outdoor Play, and while the debate over names may continue and perhaps needs to I will quietly or maybe not so quietly get on with my own campaign to get my two out more. I’m interested in how to do this with teens, let them go, let them roam free range or free.
    .http://www.mairistones.co.uk/explore-posts/mecfs/rants-and-raves/let-them-out-or-keep-them-quiet/

  15. Tim Gill says:

    Wendy, while I have some sympathy with some of your points, I think your criticism of the phrase is too strong, and at times unfair. I planned to leave a comment here, but realised I had too much to say to fit in this little box. So I’ve given my response in a blog post instead.

  16. Interesting and thought provoking piece. Like Cartside the term ‘nature deficit disorder’ makes me feel suspicious. It smacks of pseudoscience – it seems to me to be overegging the pudding (with free range eggs of course!)

    That said, there is a significant body of evidence that being outdoors in natural settings is beneficial for health and wellbeing. I think many of us know this instinctively from our own memories and experiences.

    My observations of children at play are that natural environments provide a wide range of play opportunities and experiences for children that go considerably beyond those offered by the traditional kit, fence and surface model – and this should not be lost in the debate between ‘nature deficit disorder’ and ‘free range’.

    What we need is more opportunities for children to experience everyday nature on their doorsteps, whether this is squelching in mud, climbing trees, or just feeling the wind on your face. Those of us who are involved in design of local play and public spaces need to keep this in the forefront of our minds before we start rubber surfacing over the grass.

  17. Wendy Russell says:

    Thanks Mark – you make a really good point here regarding the origins of organisations supporting urban working class children access to the contryside, and also acknowledge that becoming ‘mainstream’ brings problems. Thanks also for flagging up the improtance of the CRoW Act 2000. Nice touch, especially as this April sees the 80th anniversary of the mass trespass of Kinder Scout.

  18. xlanza says:

    Thanks for starting this wonderful debate! For my part, I’d like to “throw another hat into the ring,” so to speak: the concept of a “Playborhood.”

    That comes from my blog, Playborhood.com (if you prefer “Playbourhood.com” that’ll get you there, too!), and my *just* published book, Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place for Play.

    Here’s my case: In order to be solved, this “play deficit problem” must be viewed as largely a complex social problem, and the other terms don’t do this. The solutions suggested by the problem frames “nature deficit disorder” and “free range kids” are simple, individual kid solutions. For the former, the implied solution is, “get the kid(s) into nature!” For the latter, the implied solution is, “let the kid(s) run free!” I’m highly skeptical that either of these will create the long-term cultural change that’s necessary to get kids outside playing every day.

    Instead, my fundamental “Playborhood approach” is for families to find a way to work with neighbor families to make their neighborhoods into inviting places where kids want to be. “Free range” is a nice ideal, but let’s face it, setting kids free isn’t going to solve any long-term problems. If that’s our focus, we’ll be oblivious to all the hard work that has to happen to change thousands of neighborhood cultures.

    Another way of looking at the differences between “Nature Deficit Disorder,” “Free Range Kids,” and “Playborhood” is to consider the places to which each refers. “Nature” is just not very accessible to most kids, on their own, without adult intervention. “Free range” implies anywhere outside the house, without any hint that the kid knows anyone there. This isn’t a nurturing environment where a kid can develop best. “Playborhood” implies “neighborhood” (or “neighborhood”), which is, I believe, the *only* place where kids can play outdoors and learn how to become independent, self-reliant people. With the assistance of parents or other caregivers, it can be a nurturing place where kids can benefit from friendly “eyes on the street,” even when their parents aren’t hovering over them.

    Yes, “Playborhood” is nowhere near as well-known as the alternatives mentioned in this article, but with my book just coming out and a big PR push that we have coming, it will inch up in awareness…

    What do you all think?

  19. Mark Gladwin says:

    At the risk of sounding samey, I have to say that I also agree with Wendy about the merits of free range kids vs. nature deficit disorder as a metaphor / slogan for a movement, and for the same reasons that she puts forward. But I would like to challenge the notion that wanting to get kids into green environments risks reduction to just an educational fad for pushy middle class parents. There is a long and honourable history in Britain (at least – that’s the only place I know enough about to comment) of radical struggle by ordinary people to gain access to natural environments from which they were fenced off by aristocrats and interest groups. Skipping lightly over punitive Norman forest laws, the Diggers, the Enclosure Acts, the poetry of John Clare, the Highland clearances, and coming closer to our own day, it’s interesting to reflect that when it was founded, the National Trust was not about stately homes, cream teas and pot pourri, but about free access for urban working class people to beautiful scenery. And in fairness to the National Trust today, the vast majority of its landholdings are still open countryside where there is no admission charge (though of course it costs money to get there). The same few decades around the turn of the twentieth century, as well as the birth of the National Trust, saw the Kinder Scout trespass and the birth of the Ramblers Association, the Youth Hostels Association and the Woodcraft Folk. It’s no accident that all these organisations had radical working class roots. With their mission to open up the countryside and its beauties to people who had been excluded from them by class and poverty, they were an integral part of the left wing politics of the era. Never mind schlepping middle class kids to stately homes in 4x4s; the Woodcraft Folk took kids from south London camping in Epping Forest, transporting all their kit on the Tube. These pioneers understood why it was a children’s rights issue for urban working class kids to get the same kind of opportunity that middle class kids already had, and let’s not knock their idealism, even if it seems a touch worthy and old fashioned today. If some of the organisations involved have since been absorbed into the cultural mainstream. that’s a sign of success, not failure, even though it may be a challenge for them to carry on meeting the needs of disadvantaged people today. And the most radical “free range” reform of the last few years in Britain is the (partial) freedom to roam conferred by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, which was passed by a Labour government thanks to sustained pressure by the Ramblers Association. So yes, let’s have freedom for kids to range wherever they are, starting at their own front door, but let’s not forget that access to nature does matter, and that this too is a freedom issue.

  20. Wendy Russell says:

    Thanks for the comments. Nicola: I accept that institutions necessarily act in ways that preserve their own existence, and NDD may well be a ticket to further funding, adding to its claims to validity and to the continuation of such deficit models. However, beyond this, I don’t think the situation is an either/or one. If children are in day care anyway, I’d say it’s a good idea to take them outside. This doesn’t prevent families doing this on their own, other than perhaps professionalising the experience of nature a little.

    Mel: I agree!

    Cartside: I accept that free range childhood is as romantic a notion as the confused ideas about nature within the NDD discourse. For me, this raises questions about the kinds of playing that adults find worrying, disturbing or offensive. Playing is not inherently morally good, and children with free range will behave in ways that will bring adult disapproval. We do need to look beyond this romanticisation of both play and nature to explore a more everyday way of understanding how people deal with difference in the public realm. As for the connotations with chickens, I think that strengthens the metaphor, since it highlights the fact that the protests against battery farm animals have existed for some decades now, whereas we are only just beginning to realise this may apply to children as well.

  21. cartside says:

    I totally agree that a term and concept that is based on a deficit model isn’t the best choice of metaphor. I’m not sure of free range kids though, I can’t help thinking of chickens and also to me it does have very romantic and hippie notions attached to it which may mean that certain groups of people are likely to reject it. It’s not an easy call finding the best possible metaphor! As far as being a catchy phrase, I’m all for free range kids, while it surprises me that nature deficit disorder has been such a successful metaphor. I still remember coming across it for the first time and my instant though was, what on earth is this? Surely this is no real medical condition? It stuck in my head but I instantly questioned it and took it with a lot of suspicion.

  22. Mel McCree says:

    Brilliant post Wendy, much needed critical comment on this issue, which is so often trivialised, glazed over and viewed in a semi-romantic Blyton-esque haze. Sadly though, NDD as a term has had some impact on the kind of mindset that needs neatly packaged simplistic terms, located in the individual, not messy society. I’ve fought this out with shrinks in the past. The dominance of the medical model mindset has an impact, part of what needs to change, like the view of the deficit model you highlight. The quasi-medicalisation of the term, apart from pandering to the media mindset, really reveals the way we avoid the systemic viewpoint. Such as the cultural, economic, social and most importantly, attitudinal changes that adults (not children) need to make in order to enhance children’s access and engagement outdoors.

  23. nicola baird says:

    Many of your points I completely agree with. It adds to my feelings of discomfort about the growing trend for forest schools where kids do daycare in the woods. I am sure it is a lot of fun for the children but in the end it is totally supervised (parents at least may like this and learn to let go a bit) and adult-directed in I am sure mostly fenced or in some boundary-marked environments. Although I know v little about forest schools it seems that they are springing up like fairy rings. They clearly meet a need – the need outlined by nature defecit disorder theory, and of course organisation’s like the National Trust’s imperative to make a little money. It is just such a shame parents, grandparents, friends and kids can’t share these skills themselves rather than turn having fun outdoors into a day school. Nicola http://homemadekids.wordpress.com

    • Kacey says:

      I work with a team to run Forest School session at my setting. I don’t understand why they make you uncomfortable, I have only just stumbled on the term ‘nature deficit disorder’, we have been running our forest school for 4 years ALONGSIDE the ‘classroom’ learning. It is only one afternoon a week and it is not entirely adult led, have you done any of the training? We have to take resources with us as the age group is young (2-4) but our job is basically eyes on the children which are needed in any setting and to do as we are told! In total it has taken 27 months to train our Forest School Leaders, plus time to find a suitable site that meets all the requirements for a safe day out, countless risk assessments on the area, the trip there, the flora and fauna etc which are all subject to change seasonally, even an ecological impact assessment so they are very hard to ‘spring up’! I would also like to add we run it independently from our charity run setting, and there is minimal ‘donation’ made by parents to cover the minibus costs, entirely non profit, The parents also have ample opportunity termly to join in sessions and have a campfire. I am just doing some research for my Dissertation next year, along with a presentation, I have chosen to do Forest Schools as it is something I am passionate about. If you see this reply and have time it would be nice to further discuss your thought on Forest School, would be at least give me another viewpoint from which to tackle my assignment! Thanks.

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  1. [...] tactic has been criticised by commentators and academics. However, I have defended it, on the grounds that, in Louv’s hands at least, it was a canny [...]

  2. [...] a tweet from Play England’s Play and Health seminar in March. Wendy’s subsequent guest blog on Love Outdoor Play explained why. The term tends to medicalise the problem, she argued, framing children as deficient [...]

  3. [...] know I and many others are enjoying the Nature DeficitDisorder v Free Range Childhood v playborhood v rewilding children debate around the right metaphors to build the campaigns around. [...]

  4. [...] as used by the National Trust in its recent report – has come in  for criticism, in a post on Play England’s Love Outdoor Play website. I share some of the concerns raised. But I think [...]



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