In 2005, Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods, a book that looks at the effects of human beings, especially children, lack of time in nature and connecting to the living world. In this work, Louv coins the term Nature Deficit Disorder which examines some of the challenges children and youth face as they develop and mature into adults. Children’s exposure to nature encourages outdoor physical activity which promotes good health, the positive impacts on wellness and mental health, as well as reducing potential stress, sadness, and depression. Outdoor activities encourage creative play, community building, and help develop thinking skills and competencies. Louv believes that with mass media and sensationalism, parents hold on to their children in attempts to protect them and have literally scared the children out of the woods and into organized play or electronic devices which play for the kids and entertain them. His concerns for the future include shorter lifespans for children as a result of poorer health, an increase in anxiety, attention, and depressive disorders, childhood obesity, increase in myopia (short sightedness as a lack of bright light), and implications for the care of the environment.
While his book has been criticized for inventing a disorder that does not appear in any medical manuals or classifications, his research points to the cost of humans alienating ourselves from the natural world and shows real potential concerns. The culture of fear which guides many of us to strive for safe environments and experiences for our children, has a flip side of actually causing them harm when we are not intentional about meeting the various needs for our children and youth. Our children have a plethora of activities to keep them busy, but few of them allow for them to explore who they are and engage their imagination and creative processes.
In terms of Christian education, spiritual formation, and faith development, the opportunities are even fewer. I have heard parents in the church teach their children how to make choices which is phenomenal; however, some parents do not think about the message some of those choices teach when exploring young Christian development. If our faith is important to us, our rhetoric, attitudes, and behaviors should elevate what we hold sacred. When parents give children a choice between church camp and a secular camp, what is being transmitted is that both activities are of equal value and so the child must decide. Choosing to go to church camp or another church activity still teaches them to make decisions, but it also shows that church is on a different playing field. When I was a youth, my choices were to go to church camp or not. I could not bargain those resources for something else. My experience at church camp was extremely formative in who I am today. The lessons, the activities, and experiences are still powerful stories which guide my life and decisions in adulthood. At some point, parents and church leaders need to instill that which is sacred for our young people. They may not have the vantage point to make some decisions in terms of faith development, but it is up to the body of Christ to encourage them to try new things, experience God in different ways, and connect to this incredible universe create by God.
We are in the registration process for Slumber Falls Camp. This summer’s theme is Beyond Belief: The Universe of God. We have these amazing Cosmic Raccoon shirts for this summer which captures the theme and Slumber Falls in a snazzy design. Camps combat nature deficit disorder, but they do so much more in the social, emotional, and spiritual formation of our children and youth. Perhaps camps have not been in your typical summer plans, I would encourage you to learn more about this place of love, grace, and acceptance that we call Slumber Falls Camp.