Nature Deficit Disorder

a badlands mountainscape


Before quarantine my kids were outside from sun-up to sun-down, covered in dirt, hair knotted, smiling from ear to ear. They were fully engrossed in every critter they came across, bringing them in and out of the house to show me their newest discovery. Every shell, rock or leaf that was different was brought inside to be researched.

When school didn’t get in the way of our outdoor adventures, miles and explorations, we spent hours outside checking out bones, analyzing what may have left this bone, where it came from, why it was here. Every question my kids could dream up, we let our imaginations find the answer. It was beautiful. Exactly how I grew up, outside in the dirt of Montana. Climbing trees, making tree houses, barefoot, and covered in dirt, the exact image of my children barefoot and dirt covered was music in my very soul. 

Fast forward to the life changing stop of the COVID-19 virus. One of our daughters has Stage two Chronic Kidney Disease, and the unknown effects of this unknown virus had us bunkering down and afraid to leave the house.

We started prepping when it was still in China. Costco runs, a second fridge, another deep freezer, we were basically ready to stay in the house for at least four months. It was a bit much if I’m being honest. But better safe than sorry, especially when kidneys, kidney transplants, hospital stays, childcare for the other two, medication, special diets, time away from work and so on could run a cool $150,000 that I did not have.

I have to be honest, when everything started shutting down, and telling everyone to work from home, I was quite relieved, at least I wasn’t the only one wanting to stay home out of pure worry. The first month was awesome, we got into a groove, we learned how to homeschool from screens, I worked from home, and my husband got a month of reality in my world.

Then the corporation he worked for decided a month paid off was plenty, back to work he goes. So not wanting to expose our daughter, we did the only logical thing. Borrowed his parents camper and moved him out of the house. Part of me envied his freedom, fishing whenever he wanted, actually sleeping in without anyone waking him up, eating what, where and when he wanted, while it was still hot. Come to think of it, this is where my desire for our current adventure began. 

As the two weeks to flatten the curve carried on, my kids desire to be outside faded away as it was replaced with screen time. Watching their hands stay clean on a daily basis made my stomach churn.

They began hiding the remote so they could sneak out of bed first thing in the morning to find something to watch. They fought over who got the iPad. They began lying to me about school work to play a video game.

Slowly but surely I could see my outdoor kids become people I didn’t know. The fighting, bickering and lying when I wanted them to go for a hike, bike ride, or play outside was so foreign from the kids I once watched make snow angels in the dirt. My heart shattered, and the music in my soul grew faint.

As the weeks turned to months, and into a year, we abruptly realized we couldn’t afford our community on one income. We had to sell the house before it was taken from us. When the new house we wanted turned out to be a hot mess, I saw my opportunity. It was time to save my kids from NDD. Nature Deficit Disorder. It had overtaken my entire family, myself included. Instagram reels became a numbing tactic, a longing for what we had lost. If I was ever going to win my family back, now was the time. After a year of no parks, no friends, no school, enough was enough, it was time to save my children. 

I boldly told my husband, let’s buy an RV and hit the road! I want to see everything!!!

He instantly agreed and away we went, fire sale of everything that wouldn’t fit in our 31 foot C-class Tioga. We hit the road, two long weeks after selling the house.

By chance we found Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. Unlike the majority of our national parks, monuments and preserves this 752,000 acres is covered in lava tubes, caves, flows, cinders and rifts in the earth. The freshest lava on the Snake River Plain, found in Idaho, and I didn’t even know it existed. We explored by car, mapping out where we would go on foot, the places we wanted to see first, and after agreeing to stay five days, we were ready.

We found the Tree Molds Trail, two miles round trip and began hiking. We had all eaten breakfast–my three brought a second breakfast along–gone to the bathroom and had sunscreen. I was positive we could do this two miles effortlessly.

My kids forgot all about tv, movies, iPads and games and fully submitted to the beauty around them. We stopped at every interesting rock, bug and flower. We watched ant colonies, ladybugs, bees and chipmunks along the hike. Watching the sparkling twinkle return to my children’s eyes was worth every minute of the three hours it took us to hike the two mile round trip.

They stepped on lava, walked through lava fields and stopped momentarily to pause and let it all sink in. The questions that followed the pauses gave me hope that pulling them from online learning a month early was in fact the right choice. 

Yes, a month before school got out and I pulled them into roadschooling.

I want it for them, for us, but mostly for them. I want them to lead their learning the way they could in the Montessori they attended the previous year. Our Verizon mobile internet proved to be a useless paper weight at Craters of the Moon, and I was grateful for the freedom.

The late nights, slow mornings and teaching them what they want to know, when they want to know it gave way to a new peace in our hearts. I’ve worked with kids as a teacher my entire life, and some days felt like we were training robots, mindless robots to meet scores of things adults don’t need, use or remember. I wanted something more, something the kids would grow from, be cultured in and use in their life. 

Their fingers and toes were covered in lava dirt, their eyes sparkled again, and their skin slightly sun kissed. I knew then and there that we were on the right track. The revival of my kids from NDD has successfully begun and I know this experience is something they will remember, hopefully with the fondness of dirt under their children’s nails while music plays in their souls.