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Vitamin N: Are you getting enough?

"Imagine a world in which all children grow up with a deep understanding of the life around them. Where obesity is reduced through natural play. Where anti-depressants and pharmaceuticals are prescribed less and nature prescribed more. Where every school has a natural play space. Where children experience the joy of being in nature before they hear of its loss, where they can lie in the grass on a hillside for hours and watch the clouds become the faces of the future. Where every child and every adult has a human right to a connection to the natural world, and shares the responsibility for caring for it." – Richard Louv

When is the last time you went outside? And not just to walk along the seawall, stroll through your neighbourhood or even go mushroom hunting at Buntzen Lake—I mean when is the last time you were so far out that you could only see green, and your cell phone wasn’t getting reception?

This is the question Richard Louv is concerned with. Inspired by a question from one of his two sons,“Dad, how come it was more fun when you were a kid?” Louv began investigating the modern disconnect between children and nature. He observed that kids have a holistic knowledge of nature; they know where the Nile River is on a map, and of the consequences of logging on the environment but they might not know what it is like to traverse through their own patch of forest or what it feels like to be alone in the woods.

As a child, he spent much of his time exploring the forests and fields around his neighbourhood. When he got older, he went to school for journalism and became a columnist soon afterwards—finally venturing into writing books. Today, he is the author of nine titles, which touch on the topics of nature, family and the future we are building for our children. One of his most influential works, Last Child in the Woods, is a book where he explores the idea of nature-deficit disorder. A term of his own creation, it describes the consequences of removing kids from nature. “Diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and mental illness” are among them. In his new book, Vitamin N, Louv explores ways for families and communities to get back into nature.

So what's so great about getting outside? Studies suggest that children devise more creative ways to play when on uneven, natural surfaces. Creativity leads to problem solving which leads to a better ability to navigate in the world. It's possible that exposure to nature can help to alleviate the challenges associated with attention disorders. The University of Illinois found that kids diagnosed with ADHD had an easier time concentrating when in nature, as opposed to an urban setting. Studies have also shown that people who spend time in nature report lower levels of stress and depression, and higher levels of creativity.

So do you think you are getting enough Vitamin N? It's not always easy to get out of cell range, but you can always take a walk through a green space near your house, grow a little math-inspired plant bed on your windowsill or go birdwatching. In Vitamin N, Louv writes about experimenting with a sun oven, keeping a nature journal, building forts and learning navigation skills. To get myself some vitamin N this weekend, I went for a bike ride through Stanley Park!

Want to learn more about Richard Louv and the positive effects of nature? He’s headlining an event at Science World at TELUS World of Science on May 7, tickets are on sale now!