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Getting back to nature

I grew up in a city in China with lots of people. As a child, I was never exposed to nature, like oceans with endless beaches, mountains too tall to climb for an average person, forests with wild animals.

All my life, I've pretty much been an indoor person.

I have never done camping or hiking. I have not done much in the way of sports. I learned to bike in my teens and I learned to swim in my twenties. I hardly do any outdoor activities.

Americans love to label and categorize people or problems. For example, there are many specific terms with the word disorder in them that label various behavioral problems.

I don't know how many behavioral disorders there are. But surely there are a lot.

Here are just a few that come to my mind: attention deficit disorder, discipline deficit disorder, empathy deficit disorder, imagination deficit disorder, seasonal affective disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, conduct disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, acute stress disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, etc.

I have always felt very lucky that I am pretty "normal" and don't have any disorders, until I came across the term "nature deficit disorder." It made me think about myself and my lack of exposure and connection to nature.

Richard Louv, author of "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," coined the term "nature-deficit disorder" in his 2005 book.

Nature deficit disorder refers to this trend that children are spending less time outdoors in nature which results in a wide range of problems, not only for their physical fitness, but also for their long-term mental and spiritual well-being.

Research has showed that kids today suffer health and psychological problems, including obesity, loneliness and depression from too much sedentary time indoors with TV and computers, and too little time outdoors with nature.

Children growing up in the digital age are becoming increasingly alienated from the natural world. They detach from the natural world as they spend more time exploring the virtual world.

Their relationship with nature becomes more intellectual than personal. They know about nature, but they experience less nature.

Nowadays, kids are overscheduled with organized sports and other activities. They have less or no time for unstructured outdoor play or imaginative play.

In addition, parental fears and increased consumption of electronic media are also causes for this nature deficit phenomenon.

Nationwide, a back-to-nature movement to reconnect children with the outdoors is gaining ground.

In 2006, the No Child Left Inside Coalition ( was created to find new ways to encourage kids to experience nature and learn about the environment. It is composed of environmental, educational, and public health organizations dedicated to insuring a comprehensive education for all.

In 2007 legislation was introduced to strengthen and expand environmental education for America's children and to reconnect them with nature.

Congress is reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind law. The No Child Left Inside Act of 2007 (HR 3036 and S.1981) supports the inclusion of environmental education in the No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill.

The No Child Left Inside Act seeks to increase funding for environmental education, to provide new resources and incentives to states to enhance environmental education, to integrate environmental education across core subject areas including science or social studies classes, and to educate young people about the environment.

I like plants and gardening, and I like to walk around the lakes. That's about all the nature I experience.

Though my knowledge about and connection with nature is very limited, I don't have any behavioral problems the term "nature deficit disorder" refers to.

That's why I don't take the label seriously for myself. However, it did make me realize that something is missing in my life.

It is the outdoor life, the deep love and connection with the wondrous nature, as desired and experienced by so many people in this country and around the world.

I don't want my kids to have nature deficit disorder due to too much sedentary time indoors with TV and computers. I became conscious to do something to get them outside, and to limit their screen time.

When I saw that our school district was going to offer the Community Connections Summer Nature Day Camp, I thought that would be a great opportunity to get my kids outside and spend a week outdoor to learn about and enjoy nature.

The week-long nature day camp was too good to pass. It was not only educational; it was also free, with transportation and simple lunch included.

So during the week of July 7 to 11, my kids and some friends spent each day exploring the great outdoors at Valley Branch Environmental Learning Center ( in Afton. They learned about plants, wildlife, and the Native American culture. The camp provides learning beyond the classroom.

It is the mission of Valley Branch ELC to provide a meaningful outdoor learning experience which promotes life-long awareness toward the care and respect of our world.

I am thankful that my kids can have this wonderful experience provided by District 833 through the partnership with St. Paul Public Schools.

After the second day of the camp, my kids asked me, "Mom, can we go to the nature camp again next year?"

Unable to predict the future, I said, "Hopefully."