What is nature deficit disorder?
According to Wikipedia, nature deficit disorder refers to the phrase coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book Last Child in the Woods that human beings, especially children, are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems.
There might be several different causes for this. Restricted access to natural areas, fearful parents who don’t allow their children to roam free outdoors and of course, the lure of the screen.
Summer camp is a great place for children to remove themselves from the things that are stopping them from exploring and connecting with the natural world. At camp, nature is all around us and many of our activities involve a healthy dose of the great outdoors. Here are some ways you can encourage your campers and families to create a connection with nature:
Encourage campers and staff to notice nature around them!
If your staff is paying attention to nature, they can point it out to campers. When walking down to breakfast, have them play small rounds of ‘I spy’ to help the kids identify things in nature like spider’s webs, flowers, a song bird or a type of plant.
Take this a step further and educate yourself and your staff about the nature around your camp. Learn about plants, insects and animals that live in your camp area so they can share that information with campers and visitors. For example, if a bee comes to a picnic table your staff can explain more about honey bees and their important role in the eco-system.
Photo credit: By J.M.Garg - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
Play games to help children notice more nature.
We have published a few great ideas for games that connect children with nature. Since nature is so abundant, so are the games and activities you can share with your campers! Here are some more ideas.
Mysterious night sounds: During an evening campfire or quiet time in the evening outside your cabin, bring the kids out to be quiet and listen to night sounds. You can even do this as they lay in their beds at night if the windows are open. See if you and your cabin can identify night sounds like owls, frogs and crickets.
Catching insects: Who didn’t catch insects as a kid? It’s creepy, crawly and fun! Give your campers bug nets and set them loose in a natural area. We bet they’ll be running and laughing having a great time trying to catch multiple bugs. If they catch something, have them bring it back and see if you and the others can identify what it is. You can keep them in jars (just for the session length and then return them to the wild). It helps if your staff brush up on their bug knowledge before hand. A good place to play this is in a weedy field or a freshly cut field where insects run rampant! This website has some good information to help you learn more about bugs in Alberta: www.insectsofalberta.com
Who lives in the sand? Does your camp have a waterfront or beach? Perfect. There are so many things that live in the sand and the shallows of an Alberta lake. If you have a black light flashlight, bring it out as it will help you see more creepy crawlies in the sand.
View more nature games for summer camp.
Attract and learn about wildlife.
You don’t want to attract wildlife by leaving out the garbage and waiting for bears or raccoons. That is not what we are suggesting! We are talking about attracting small, safe and non-pest-like wildlife for your campers to learn about. Here are some ideas that will help you attract this type of wildlife:
- Set up tree frog and toad houses near a spot where there are lots of bugs. You can build one using short pieces of PVC pipe and stick them in the ground at a slight angle buried enough to be stable. Tree frogs might seek refuge in them!
- Plant a garden. Even a small flower or vegetable garden on site will help children learn about how things grow and it will attract insects like butterflies and earth worms to discover!
- Attract pollinating bees. Put a few mason bee houses around areas that have wild flowers or fruit trees. These are non-aggressive bees and just want to help pollinate the local plant life. They are a good tool for teaching campers about how flowers and plants rely on bees to grow.
Do you have ideas on how to connect kids with nature? Share them on the Alberta Camping Association’s Facebook page!