On Sled Riding and Nature Deficit Disorder

I was so determined to hit Jimmy Smith in the knees with my toboggan, I didn't notice the pond.

Maybe I better explain.

It's winter. The snow is falling. And when the snow falls, there's only one place a kid should be: out in the elements whipping snow balls, building snow men and riding sleds down steep hills. 

Too few kids are doing that anymore. Thus, they're suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder, a term coined by Journalist Richard Louv in his book "Last Child in the Woods."

Louv spent 10 years traveling around America interviewing parents, kids, teachers, researchers and others to learn about children's experiences with nature. His findings: during the last 30 years our sensationalist media has "scared children straight out of the woods and fields." Parents are afraid to let kids out of their sight — afraid their kids might get hurt.

Add to that the advent of television, video games and the Internet and the fact is this: kids aren't getting out much anymore. And because they're not getting out they're withdrawing from nature — the chief place where they use all five of their senses at once.

"We don't yet know why it happens, but when all five of a child's senses come alive, a child is at an optimum state of learning," Louv told me. "Creativity and cognitive functioning go way up."

The consequences of withdrawing from nature are not good. Kids lose their sense of being rooted in the world. They're more likely to experience stress, hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorder and other modern maladies.

That's why more kids should enjoy winter as I did as a kid. Which brings us back to Jimmy Smith.

One Sunday afternoon, after a fast run down the hill, I picked up my plastic toboggan and began to climb the hillside for another run. That's when Jimmy Smith tagged me.

 Unlike most kids, who rode sleds solely for the thrill of whipping down the hill, Smith got his kicks out of knocking kids off their feet. He hit me just below the knees, causing me to go posterior over tin cups.

I spent the rest of that day with vengeance on my mind. I made several runs looking to tag Smith back. I finally saw my opportunity. Just after he jumped on his sled and took a run, I jumped onto my plastic toboggan just behind him.

My timing was exquisite. As he finished his run and got on his feet, I hit him square in the shins causing him to go posterior over tin cups. So delighted was I with my success, I didn't notice the pond at the bottom of the hill.

Mr. Ayres dammed up the creek that ran through his yard to form a small pond. Just after I tagged Smith, I hit the mound of earth surrounding it and was suddenly floating through the air. I landed in the center of the pond on a patch of ice. The ice quickly broke, sending me and my plastic toboggan to the bottom.

Unlike too many of today's kids, I spent my childhood out in the elements. I was free to play and roam and discover. There was certainly the risk of injury and all the other things parents worry about today, but such things didn't concern us the '70s — all to my benefit.

When it snowed in my neighborhood, 30 or 40 kids could be found on our neighborhood hillside. We had to figure things out on our own — had to figure out how to deal with risk and danger and ruffians such as Jimmy Smith.

It was a boneheaded move for me to tag him right in front of the pond, but, boy, was I immersed in nature that day. I certainly didn't suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder.

If we have any sense, we'll do one thing this winter: encourage our kids to turn off their video games and go outside for a sled ride the next time it snows.

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  • Guest

    Praise God that you didn't drown that day or put your eye out the next day with your BB gun. You little risk taker – you probably drank out of the garden hose too, even ate french fries cooked in lard, and played outdoors all day in the Summer and just checked in for a quick lunch and dinner and no one knew where you were! What victims we were and didn't know it

  • Guest

    This reminds me of the stories my husband tells of the go cart demolition derbys he participated in as a kid.  The bigger kids built them and then got the little light kids to ride in them.  No helmets, either.

    Kids roamed the streets in multi-age packs and could entertain themselves for hours.

    What's missing now-a-days are the kids!  Most of our kids playmates have been contracepted or aborted away.

  • Guest

    I read a similar article discussing the relationship of video games to failure in later life.

    You may find it here:   Ban the video & computer games

  • Guest

    At the entrance of my suburban dead end street is a caravan of SUV's parked every morning to drop off the kids for the school bus. Some of the kids are dressed well enough to last 10 min. in the winter weather, most are not. Once they're all in the t-shirt comfy school they can talk about how we waste energy and hurt the environment that is experienced by them only through a window. What a cushy, cowardly generation. Gov't and business like it this way. These people will buy bad ideas and bad products. I drive to town and see some of the brave people walking to their jobs on slushy streets and sidewalks. These are for the most part immigrants, legal and illegal.

  • Guest

    Growing up there were 14 kids (not including my brother and I) within 5 houses of our own.  16 kids with moms that stayed home.  If you added the rest of the kids in the area, we quickly doubled that number.

    We 'owned' the neighborhood and on occation would venture a few blocks away to "explore" the woods.  That was the mid-80's. 

    We currently have three little ones (5, 3, and 1).  We have to go more than 2 blocks to find another stay-at-home mom with kids (2 boys) in the neighborhood. 

  • Guest

    I agree wholeheartedly with you Tom.  However, when you were a kid you had much less chance of being stolen by bad people.  I refuse to have my kids outside a second without me (and I can't always be out there) even in my so-called "safe suburban neighborhood" so I thank God for some of the available indoor distractions.  I would not have any electronics in my home if it weren't for that threat.

  • Guest

    Fear is a stern jail master. I don't think there are more kidnappings now than before. Perhaps someone who minds statistics will prove me wrong. The majority of them are custody issues. Jesus would have no public ministry if the Holy Family were that uptight. If regular Joe could be entrusted to make sure that nothing happened to God, I think we can do a pretty good job in looking out for each other. Keeping the kids cooped-up is bad for their health and humanity. Put a lojack on 'em and catnap in peace.

  • Guest

    Great Hit!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    aurit has a point. And I think Mary Kochan elsewhere pointed out that of those sixteen aurit mentioned of (his? her?) childhood, today up to twelve would be contracepted or aborted into oblivion. The other kids just aren’t there. ‘Outside’ is just a natural isolation. aurit’s two little precious gifts would have had to wander two blocks to find a Mom to ask if her own could come out to play with them.

    Worse, some of that limited number of the ‘playmates’ out there are self-centered, cynical little mirror images of their parents.

    It is difficult being a parent nowadays, and far worse for our kids.

    I think that child predators just may be on the increase somewhat, given their incremental ideas and motivations from child-porn exchanges on the web. I do know that the concept of ‘paper boys’ (and girls) has died with danger to the lone kids out in the lonely hours. Yet, some – uh – ‘decades’ ago, when I was sometimes out from three in the morning doing papers, who ever had to give it a thought that I might be kidnapped for nefarious ‘adult’ purposes?

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)