Much has been said about the effect the Covid19 lockdown had on nature. In many places wild animals were spotted in urban spaces; from pumas in Chile to wild deer in Japan, to a kangaroo in the streets of Adelaide, Australia. The Chicago Tribune posted a humorous article, complaining that pollution levels in the city were going ‘tragically low’.
Amid these surreal times, there was one unexpected and surprising side-effect to the Corona lockdown, right here in my neighborhood.
I’ve been living here for over ten years and it’s a lovely place; just a few interconnected narrow streets and a lot of friendly people.
When the Covid19 pandemic hit the Netherlands, the Dutch government recommended subtle lockdown rules compared to other countries. We were allowed to go outside under the condition that we keep our physical distance.
So when my neighbors and I were asked to stop commuting to work and avoid crowded places, we (re)discovered nature.
It was as if, all of a sudden, we woke up and noticed nature was there.
I started bumping (not literally. Corona-style.) into fellow neighbors at the nearby park every day. We went out into nature, admiring the beautiful spring, having safe 1.5 meters conversations on the grass, watching birds. Our neighborhood shared instant messages of birdsong recordings, snapshots of flowers, swarming bees, and even a baby bat that was spotted nearby and rescued. All of a sudden, we had time to discuss nature. And the kids! They started playing outside much more. One of my neighbors said that her indoor-loving kids started spending all day playing outside, climbing trees, and collecting pebbles and leaves. The kids only showed up for dinner, just like she did when she was young.
Nature made a comeback also in our little neighborhood.
Which is wonderful, because us, humans, are rapidly turning into an indoor species.
It's true. Statistics show that people spend much more time indoors than outdoors. Kids spend more time playing inside the house than outside, and increasingly, they spend much more time glued to screens, just like us.
The National Human Activity Pattern Survey published in 2001, stated that the average American spends 87% of their time indoors, and 6% of their time in a vehicle.
That was 19 years ago. Can you imagine? Meanwhile, more and more kids need glasses because staying indoors and looking at screens cause their eyes to develop unnaturally.
The impact of indoor, nature-devoid life is immense: it harms our physical and emotional wellbeing. But the difference with kids is that they must spend time outdoors, in nature, to develop healthily.
In 2005, Richard Louv wrote Last Child in the Woods, where he warned that modern children suffer from a Nature-Deficit Disorder. This is not an official medical term, but recent research reveals that it is a very accurate way of describing our reality now.
So what can we do?
The answer is quite simple: get out more. We simply need to make sure we and our kids spend more time outdoors, in a green-ish environment.
Here are a few suggestions:
1. Keep it simple - Nature is closer than you think. Exploring the outdoors doesn't have to involve a special trip to a faraway destination. It can be as close by as admiring the blossom of a tree in your street or walking to a nearby park. What matters is being in an environment that is green, as opposed to gray.
2. Make it a priority - A New Zealand government campaign states that: 'Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health.'
Playing outside is as important for your kid's health as eating a balanced diet and sleeping enough. Make it a priority for yourself as well. Being outdoors lowers stress, blood pressure, and heart diseases in adults, explains Qing Li, a Japanese researcher specialized in Forest Bathing. Louv states that time spent in nature has a positive effect in lessening anxiety and even ADHD symptoms.
3. Enjoy it! Being outside is a chance to disconnect from our frenzied virtual lives. Take your kids outside, take a break from screens, from sitting down. Take a breath of fresh air. Smell the flowers.
We shouldn't be needing a pandemic to remind us to stop and smell the flowers. But I'm grateful it did. I'm going to take this unexpected revelation and try and make it my new normal. Hope you’re inspired to do the same in your neighborhood!