IN the ten-plus years since Professor Tanya Byron's Review of Children in a Digital World, the first warning bells she sounded about the impact of the digital revolution on children's interaction with the natural world have grown into a deafening tocsin.
The term Nature Deficit Disorder - coined by American author, Richard Louv, in 2005 - has now been widely taken up to describe the detrimental effects, on physical and mental health, of children's disengagement from nature.
The stats paint a stark and concerning picture - with a third of under-16s being overweight or obese and an 'epidemic of mental illness' afflicting the young (leading to around 35,000 children in England being prescribed anti-depressants). In response, many organisations, such as the National Trust, have taken up the cause of re-engaging children with the great outdoors.
Schools are, of course, crucial to the success this endeavour. At a time when many schools are struggling to hold onto their green spaces, as a result of funding pressures, and other agendas are vying for attention, it is more important than ever to remind ourselves of the value of outdoor learning and to give it the priority and the resourcing that it deserves.
Forest School is a brilliant starting point. Much more than an outdoor education programme, it is a fully integrated and structured programme of activities, underpinned by a wealth of research and risk assessment and combining elements of bushcraft, skills-building, adventure, environmental awareness, character education and personal well-being. Forest School demands specialist practitioners but, in other respects, outdoor learning is accessible by all. Enthusiasm and an understanding of what ignites the curiosity of children are the main requirements to make outdoor learning at school stimulating and effective. Flower beds and vegetable patches, mud kitchens and bug hotels, sensory beds and sandpits, bird feeders and barometers, a trundle wheel and tree-rubbing equipment - the possibilities are endless with a little space and money and a lot of imagination and nous.
Parents, too, can help - and realising what a huge impact even the smallest actions can have is bound to serve as encouragement. Above all, parents, the key is to embrace the Norwegian proverb: 'There is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing'
while repeating the mantra that: 'Dirt is not the enemy!'
Learning where our food comes from, growing things, noticing and understanding the changes of the seasons, making art from natural materials, caring for birds and other wildlife - these are just a few ways that family members can combat Nature Deficit Disorder. Children can move more freely, look higher, dig deeper, shout louder and think bigger thoughts when the sky is their limit.
Find out more about Northampton High School on the website www.northamptonhigh.gdst.net
or call Registrar Amanda Wilmot on 01604 765765 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.