With the pandemic entering its fourth month and lockdowns continuing in the United States, people in cities that usually have access to green spaces and playgrounds have had their access limited. Multiple studies have shown that green space is incredibly important to childhood development.

Richard Louv, a journalist and author of “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” spoke to the New York Times about the problems the lack of green space can cause in children and adults. “Ironically, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, as tragic as it is, has dramatically increased public awareness of the deep human need for nature connection, and is adding a greater sense of urgency to the movement to connect children, families and communities to nature,” he said.

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New York residents confirm that the pandemic and the associated lockdown has caused moodiness and changes in those without access to regular outdoor time. LaToya Jordan told the New York Times of her children, “Both of them are more moody and cranky. My 8-year-old is so jealous of her friends who have backyards right now.” Jordan’s findings are confirmed by numerous studies that show mental and physical benefits of outdoor time. Louv has coined the term “nature-deficit disorder” which is defined as “a nonmedical condition that suggests that spending less time outdoors can contribute to behavioral changes in children.”

Even cities with great access to parks and outdoor spaces are proving problematic for families searching for outdoor space that meets social distancing requirements. Parents are worried that crowded playgrounds and spaces are dangerous during the pandemic and don’t feel comfortable allowing their kids to play there.

Experts recommend that those with children prioritize outside and unstructured play if possible. Rebecca Hershberg, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in early childhood social-emotional development and mental health, told the New York Times, “We now know, not just intellectually but based on recent lived experience, that not all activities are created equal when it comes to enhancing our children’s mood and behavior. Prioritizing time in nature, exercise, and even some unstructured downtime is analogous to prioritizing our children’s mental health, which is more important now than ever.”

Louv said that kids that are stuck inside should create a “world-watching window” if they cannot get outside.

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