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Contact with Nature can Counter the Effects of Nature Deficit and Cyber Overload

Updated: Jan 12, 2019

By Janet A. Courtney, PhD

When you were a child, what was your outdoor play like?

This is the question I ask my seminar participants in my nature-based play therapy training. And, I ask it from a deep sense of curiosity. Take a moment now to answer that question for yourself...When participants begin to share their experiences, an interesting phenomena is revealed. There appears to be a generational split related to the answers. Often people ages 35-40 years and older describe (usually with much delight) hours of unstructured free play outdoors. And, it seems the older the person, the more hours spent in exploratory free play in nature. While many under that age, reveal less unstructured time outdoors and spending longer periods of time playing indoors. Of course, this may be different for individuals from different parts of the world or even Americans who live in more rural areas.

What did your childhood contact with nature look like?

I fit into the first group, and as a child I took delight roaming the woods surrounding my home in the North Eastern United States. It was my playground—my protected world of make-believe. Sometimes I played alone and other times with friends. Sometimes I imagined I was an Indian running barefoot fast through the woods dodging rocks and trees, and another day I played homemaker sweeping with a tree branch a "kitchen" floor encircled by fallen tree stumps—my pretend house. I needed that nature play ~ that freedom. And it prepared me for the many life challenges that awaited ahead.

Societal Concerns for Children

In today’s society, for a variety of reasons from technological cyber overload to schools cutting back on recess, children are missing essential nature exploration. Many of today’s children experience nature, not by direct contact but by non-contact representations--such as internet technology exposure. Land restrictions, fear of litigation, and safety concerns have all made their contribution to this ever increasing disconnect between children and the natural world.

"Help support your child to have at least ONE outdoor nature experience a day."

Some professionals are exploring the possibility that many of the behavioral disorders observed in children might well be, in part, a consequence of this disconnect (Courtney, 2017; Courtney & Mills, 2016; Louv, 2012). A phenomena coined by Richard Louv (2008) called Nature Deficit Disorder, speaks to the detrimental effects that can occur when children have decreased access to the world of nature.

Nature Play—whether playing alone or with peers—helps children to develop the following 12 “C’s” of Competency to:

  • inspire Curiosity

  • foster Courage

  • develop Caring

  • feel Capable

  • build healthy empathetic Connections

  • feel like they Count

  • grow in Confidence

  • promote Creativity

  • learn to be Careful

  • develop Concentration

  • kindle Compassion

  • grow a sense of Community

Nature Play Grows Life Skills

Spending time in nature helps children to learn how to take risks, overcome fears, grow courage, problem solve, practice life encounters, learn new skills, and re-balance themselves emotionally. Observe the following waterfall images as an example of these benefits as children prepare to take a waterfall slide ride.

Carefully planning the waterfall journey. Taking risks. Building courage. Practicing leadership skills. This parallels later life mastery of formulating life goals and accomplishments.

Successfully mastering the plan of action. Growing in confidence and sense of capability.

Creating opportunities for your children to spend time in nature helps to support healthy growth and development. Help support your child to have at least one outdoor nature experience a day.

About Dr. Courtney

Janet A. Courtney, PhD, RPT-S

Janet A. Courtney, PhD, RPT-S is Founder and Editor of FirstPlay® Café and FirstPlay® Therapy [FirstPlay® Infant Story-Massage and FirstPlay Kinesthetic Storytelling® (or "BACK Stories" as kids know them).] She is co-editor of Touch in Child Counseling and Play Therapy: An Ethical and Clinical Guide and is Chair of the Ethics and Practice Committee for the Association for Play Therapy and former President of the Florida Association for Play Therapy. Dr. Courtney offers a Certification to practitioners in FirstPlay® Therapy. She is author of the children's book, The Magic Rainbow Hug© (an interactive FirstPlay® "BACK-Story" for parents and children). Dr. Courtney advocates that children's lives are profoundly enriched through contact with nature, nurturing touch experiences, and the power of imaginative storytelling. Visit:


Courtney, J.A. (2017). The Art of Utilizing the Metaphorical Elements of Nature as

“Co-Therapist” in Ecopsychology Play Therapy. In A. Kopytin & M. Rugh (Eds.).

Environmental Expressive Therapies: Nature-Assisted Theory and Practice (Chapter 6).

New York, NY: Routledge.

Courtney, J.A., & Mills, J. C. (2016, March). Utilizing the metaphor of nature as co-therapist in StoryPlay®. Play Therapy. Play Therapy, 11(1), 18-21

Louv, R. (2008). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

Louv, R. (2012). The nature principle: Reconnecting with life in a virtual age. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books.

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1 Comment

Merab Chunge
Merab Chunge
Apr 07, 2021

The article resonates with my heart as am one of those who love nature.My country has beautiful natural sights which l always admire.

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