Part of being an adult is having a busy life. There is work, social, and family obligations that keep most of us racing around like we are on a java-fueled bender. When we finally get a moment to relax, we typically pull out our phones to find out how our friends are coping with their equally busy lives. So it is not surprising that our children, who learn through mimicry, tend to do the same things with their electronics. So as adults we need to make an effort to teach our children better habits.
Science shows that both children and adults benefit greatly from spending time outside. Research has shown repeatedly that time spend outside leads to better health, improved cognitive ability, increased focus, and decreased levels of stress and anxiety. All these benefits can be gained just by ditching the cell phones and tablets for a family walk in the woods. There are also other ways it helps with your child’s development, such as free play.
Those of us that grew up before the Internet was everywhere will be familiar with the concept of free play. Essentially, free play was all the times you went out with your siblings or friends and made up games to play. Studies have found that free play is disappearing from children’s lives and being replaced with structured activities. The problem is that with all these structured activities, children are not learning how to be self-starters. In 2014 the University of Colorado conducted a study that found that kids who spent more time in free play had higher levels of executive function, or the ability to organize, plan, and achieve goals.
Other studies have found that people (children included) who experience a sense of awe by viewing vast open landscapes are able to think more creatively. Researchers believe looking down from a mountaintop or over a vast expanse opens the brain up to seeing problems from new and different angles. This along with correlating research that shows that unplugging from technology and hiking through nature enhances higher order thinking.
Finally, there are the therapeutic aspects of time spent in nature. According to a 2010 University of Essex study, five minutes of exercise in nature is just as effective as medication for some mental health issues. This new idea of using nature for therapy is called Ecotherapy and it is gaining a lot of traction. Outdoor activities are now being prescribed to veterans to help treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Also, regular exercise is a great tool to lower anxiety levels in people.
For more information see: