Archive for January, 2011

Technology and the “Nature Deficit Disorder”

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his book “Last Child in the Woods”.  He discusses the issue that more children are spending their time indoors immersed in technology combined with the fact that an increasing amount of parents fear “stranger danger”.

Contrary to this belief is the biophilia hypothesis, by Edward O Wilson, which suggests that humans have an instinctive draw towards nature and life systems and take steps to spend more time out doors. 

I think that both Wilson and Louv make interesting points in the role that technology plays with human interaction in nature.  Perhaps it comes back to the age old arguement of Nature vs. Nurture.  While on one hand Wilson suggests that it is instinct for humans to have a connection to the environment, I would have to disagree.  Perhaps it’s a cultural way of living that has one engaged or disengaged with the land.  For example, my roommate Resty, 24, who lived in the Philipinnes until he was 19 before moving to Canada in 2004. Resty and I have had on several occasions the discussion that he spends all of his time in both summer and winter in his room playing video games.  For someone like myself, who grew up at the cabin in the Ontario Whitesheild, this blows my mind.  Resty argues that growing up in the Philipinnes he never gained a sense of appreciation for nature, added to the fact he is an engineer, his interests lay not in trees and rocks, but in metal and design.  So does culture and environment have more of a role to play in an individuals “instictive draw towards nature”?  I would venture to say yes. 

Louv states that some of the effects of Nature Deficit Disorder are obesity, attention disorders and depression.  According to Stop Childhood Obesity, between 16 and 33 percent of adolescents are obese in the United States due to poor diet and lack of exercise.  The estimated cost to society for obesity is US$100 billion and responsible for 300,000 deaths per year. Overweight children are likely to become overweight adults unless they change their lifestyle. Approximately 9 million children over the age of 6 are considered obese.  But can all of this be attributed to technology alone?  There has to be a combination of factors.

   I think that today’s parent not only have anxiety to “stranger danger”, but are also suffering from a modern parent complex.  Today’s parent is so over-run with the demands of work, children, chores, hobbies, aging parents, and whatever else is being thrown their way, that perhaps it is easier to raise the children within the house hold, rather than outside of it.  For some parents, technology becomes a secondary device in raising the children.  Sit the kids down in front of the t.v. and buy yourself some quite time.  Let the kids play video games, and you know exactly where they are and what they are doing.  Many gaming companies advertise the benefits of learning games, but do they match the benefits of children learning and exploring for themselves outdoors?  Do they stimulate the senses and the imagination the same way as a child running, playing, touching, smelling, seeing and experiencing? 

Parents also lead by example.  It’s very hard for a child to be motivated to go outside and play when mum or dad is sitting infront of the computer or television as well.  Parents must lead by example and begin to live healthy and active lifestyles.  If parents have anxiety to  “stanger danger”, then they should be outdoors with their children to ensure their safety, or look into alternative means such as organized sports, wilderness adventure camps, or playmates who utilize the great outdoors in their playtime adventures.

According to BBC News Health, 2 hours of screen time a day is a sensible guidline for children in combination with at least one hour of exercise.  A study conducted at the University of Bristol found that children who spent more than 2 hours infront of the television or computer had an increased risk to psychological difficulties, a failure to meet physical activity guidelines, and problems with peers. 

According to White Hutchinson Leisure and Learning Group in their article “Interaction with Nature During the Middle Years: It’s Importance to Children’t Development and Nature’s Future” By Randy White, the importance of nature to a child’s development includes:

  • Children with symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are better able to concentrate after contact with nature (Taylor 2001).
  • Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. (Wells 2000, Taylor 2002). 
  • Children who play regularly in natural environments show more advanced motor fitness, including coordination, balance and agility, and they are sick less often (Grahn, et al. 1997, Fjortoft 2001).
  • When children play in natural environments, their play is more diverse with imaginative and creative play that fosters language and collaborative skills (Moore & Wong 1997, Taylor, et al. 1998, Fjortoft 2000). 
  • Exposure to natural environments improves children’s cognitive development by improving their awareness, reasoning and observational skills (Pyle 2002).
  • Nature buffers the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity.  The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits (Wells 2003).
  • Play in a diverse natural environment reduces or eliminates bullying (Malone & Tranter 2003). 
  • Nature helps children develop powers of observation and creativity and instills a sense of peace and being at one with the world (Crain 2001).
  • Early experiences with the natural world have been positively linked with the development of imagination and the sense of wonder (Cobb 1977, Louv 1991).  Wonder is an important motivator for life long learning (Wilson 1997).
  • Children who play in nature have more positive feelings about each other (Moore 1996).
  • A decrease in children’s time spent outdoors is contributing to an increase of children’s myopia in developed countries (Nowak 2004).
  • Natural environments stimulate social interaction between children (Moore 1986, Bixler, Floyd & Hammutt 2002).
  • Outdoor environments are important to children’s development of independence and autonomy (Bartlett 1996).

Nature seems to have won the day!  Perhaps I am a little biased my arguement towards nature, having grown up at the lake and camping, but you just can’t argue with the facts.  Nature and its benefits in metacognition, peer relations and social interaction, personal development and independance, fitness, balance, agility, concentration and self discipline can’t be matched.  Perhaps more outdoor class time should be called for!


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Media Response

The following is a TED Talk given by Jose Abreu, founder of the Venezuelan Youth Orchestra, El Sistema, on music as a tool for social change and empowerment.

El Sistema is a publicly financed sector of music education in Venezuela.  Originally called Social Action for Music, El Sistema boasts 125 youth orchestras and 30 symphony orchestras, with approx. 300, 000 children who attend from poor socio-economic backgrounds.  The goal of El Sistema is to use music for the protection of childhood through training, rehabilitation and prevention of criminal behavior.  In 2007, the Inter-American Bank announced a loan of US$150 million for the construction of 7 regional centers of El Sistema in Venezuela.  Weighing such benefits as falloff in school drop our rates and a decline in crime, the bank calculated that every $1 dollar invested in El Sistema would return about $1.68 in social dividends. Supported by the government, El Sistema plans to support 500,000 children by 2015.

Founder Jose Abreu describes the program as a social rescue and deep cultural transformation, with an emphasis on vulnerable and endangered social groups.  Through music, children develop intellectually, emotionally and the dimensions of the human being, thus elevation the human spirit. Students learn leadership, teaching and training principals, in combination with a sense of commitment and responsibility, generosity and general dedication to others.  Students learn individual contribution to achieve great collective goals, leading to the development of self esteem and confidence.  Abreu quotes Mother Teresa, which had a profound affect on him and his work, as saying “the most miserable and tragic thing about poverty is not the lack of bread or roof, but the feeling of being no one.” With this in mind, El Sestima provides identity, making each student a role model for his or her family and community. Children aspire to become better students and learn responsibility.  They discover importance in family and hope for improvements for themselves and community and hope for social and economic improvement for their own families.  Music encourages children to embrace new dreams, new goals and progress in the opportunity that music has to offer.  The spirituality that music provides ends up overcoming material poverty.  Music may lead to the prevention against prostitution, violence and everything degrading in a child’s life.

Abreau concludes by saying that art is at the service of the weak, the children, the sick, and at the service of all those who try for the vindication through the spirit of their human condition and the raising up of their dignity.


I chose Jose Abreu’s TedTalk for my assignment for personal reasons.  I am constantly finding myself in discussions with my friends who are not involved in the arts in why the arts matter.  Besides arguing the obvious fact (perhaps to me) that art is all around us, from the clothes that we wear, to the advertisement on the box of the cereal we eat that morning, to the pictures we hang in our house or the music we listen to on our Ipod.  Art comes in a variety of forms and is an expression of our likes and dislikes, essentially telling the world who we are.  These reasons aside, I am grateful for Abreu’s success story as an artist and educator; it  provides inspiration for teachers worldwide.  He is saying “the arts matter, and here is why…”  Music provides a sense of identity, self esteem, leadership, passion, involvement in the family and community, and a development of the spiritual, intellectual and the human being.  These are goals that all teachers should aspire to for their students, and the arts provides an excellent vehicle in which to achieve these goals.  So the next time that someone asks me “why art?”, I will be better equipped to educate them on the endless opportunities that art has to offer us.

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