Plant your children outside to cure Nature Deficit Disorder |

Plant your children outside to cure Nature Deficit Disorder

Katherine Doolittle
Special to The Union
Learning how to walk on a log blindfolded is one of the Fox Walkers’ ways of teaching kids to be “in balance” with nature. Here, Fox Walkers counselor Starlight Kompost of North San Juan prepares a young Fox Walker for log-walking “Ninja” training during a summer session.
Photo by Tom Durkin |


WHAT: Fox Walkers programs

WHO: Four Elements Earth Education

WHERE: Burton Homestead on Lake Vera Purdon, Nevada City

WHEN: Early Fall sessions begin Sept. 6, 7 & 8.

ADMISSION: $175 up depending on number of weeks and hours per program. Scholarships available.

INFO:; email:; call: 530-265-2036

We see them everywhere: at school, in the grocery store, at the park, on the streets, at our kitchen tables.

It looks like an invasion of the body snatchers — children and youths no longer present in their surroundings but completely absorbed by technology.

It’s called Nature Deficit Disorder — and there’s a program for that.

“Kids who do not have a connection to the outdoors experience a significant loss of cognitive, social, creative and intellectual benefits that have shaped and strengthened minds and bodies since time began,” said Rick Berry, executive director of Fox Walkers kids’ programs.

“The goal of our sessions is to make children comfortable enough to navigate the hill in front of them as easily as the stairs in their home,” he said.

“We hope to build such confidence that a meadow becomes their living room,” said Berry, who founded 4 Earth Elements in 2010.

Fox Walkers outdoor adventures, located at The Burton Homestead in Nevada City, are available for public, private, home and charter school kids. Early fall sessions begin Sept. 6, 7, and 8.

The sessions include convenient after-school programs as well as a full-day activity for charter and home schooled kids.

Six weeks of afternoons start at $175. Full-day Fridays are $350 for six weeks. Scholarships are available.

Late fall sessions begin the middle of October.

Recent research states that children between the ages of eight and 18 years spend an average of six and a half hours a day with electronic media.

Virtual reality has left our kids disconnected from their natural reality.

Four Elements Earth Education, which hosts Fox Walkers, engages hundreds of children each year in the outdoors. Kids are introduced to earth skills in fun and challenging ways to create real connection, comfort and joy in the nearby wilderness.

Through Fox Walkers, a re-thinking of kids’ relationship to nature begins to occur: Nature is not simply a “resource” that people control as a product, but a relationship they must cultivate.

Students are introduced to the world of the unseen and eternal, tapping into “the spirit that moves in all things” as awareness and skills are woven together to serve as a foundation for creating visionary leaders.

As Martha Driessnack, PhD, PNP-BC, Assistant Professor of College of Nursing at the University of Iowa shared in her article “Children and Nature-Deficit Disorder:

“Childhood has moved indoors, and children are paying the price. Their experience of nature most often occurs from the inside of an automobile looking out or as they watch nature DVDs projected on car headrest screens directly in front of them (Louv, 2008). Richard Louv, who named the disorder, shared that no child can truly know or benefit from nature if the natural world remains behind glass, seen only through windows or on screens and computer monitors.

Louv says while nature shouldn’t be seen as the magic bullet to cure all ailments, parents should see the woods, streams, fields and canyons around their home as a type of therapy to keep kids focused, confident, healthy and balanced. “Kids learn better when they get outside. It’s a way to truly help our kids learn in all areas of education,” he said.

Studies also show links between nature and behavior. Kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) thrive when put in routine contact with nature in documented test cases.

One local Meadow Vista family recently wrote about their son’s outdoor experience: “He seemed to see his own reflection — who he is, who he will become. There he found integrity, real skill and purpose, reverence, humor, and a perfect blend of all that is both tender and fierce, mixed with wisdom.”

Anyone visiting Fox Walkers hears squeals and laughter, sees kids finding an emotional and earth connection, watches children covered in dirt experiencing challenges as they learn about local animals, insects and birds.

All the while, they are being introduced to the myriad of skills needed to be a competent outdoors person.

Fox Walker mother Sarah Regan believes her daughter’s experience has given her a strong connection to the natural world — “She is full of knowledge, experiences and stories from her time at Burton Homestead with the 4eee instructors.

“On our first family camping trip after she started Fox Walkers, we saw firsthand all that she had learned and how she had grown. She was four years old.

“When we arrived at our campsite she immediately headed off on her own. We found her down at the creek with coal and dirt smeared on her face (for camouflage) proudly standing next to a bark shelter that she had built on the side of the creek.”

Now that her daughter is an older Fox Walkers student, Regan said, “I am seeing that she is very awake to the importance of being aware and protective of the natural world.”

Kathleen Doolittle is a consultant to 4 Elements Earth Education. She can be reached at

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