Written by one of our interns, Kayla Walsh!
A group of 4th graders barreled off the bus at Woodland Dunes last week to learn about wetlands; they left with mud smeared on their faces like war paint. Mothers were not impressed… but we were! As I’m watching children identify critters and sink ankle-deep in the marsh, I’m reminded that spring is a time of growth. Not only are flowers budding and birds singing, but children’s minds and bodies are submersed in it all. Kids are spending more time outdoors, and this is definitely a great thing.
Instead of trekking through the woods, there are many kids who spend the majority of their time in front of screens. Television and gaming devices keep kids “plugged in.” The next generation has even been dubbed the “wired generation,” for their relative ‘addiction’ to electronics. However, there are major benefits to “unplugging” kids and reacquainting them with nature. Children need nature. They need to explore, to climb trees, and to catch caterpillars. The term, “nature deficit disorder” is used to explain the lack of time kids spend romping around outdoors. Research shows that “nature deficit disorder” is linked to increased rates of obesity, attention disorders, and depression in children. It’s time to give priority to playing outside!
Kids learn and grow from experimental play. Those who sift through the soil and make forts out of tree branches, strengthen their emotional and physical health. Kids who get grass-stains regularly can think more holistically about ecosystem functions and humans’ role in today’s world. They are less likely to become sick and have a better understanding of life processes. Kids who spend time exploring in their backyard or going on nature hikes have a greater capacity for imagination and problem-solving skills. Creative play helps stimulate a child’s imagination and ability to adjust to adverse situations. Studies show that children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) concentrate more easily after a healthy dose of outdoor play.
Those who explore the environment and nature’s processes form a bond with nature. They create positive memories about their time outside, and this translates to an appreciation for the plants and animals surrounding them. Hopefully, those kids who ran off the bus and smeared mud on their faces, will grow into adults who petition and rally against abuse of our natural resources. There is a better chance that they will forge a bond with nature that inspires them to save valuable ecosystems as adults.
During springtime, children are growing alongside the tulips. They are transforming like caterpillars and climbing to new heights (literally and figuratively). Investigating the outdoors is not only invigorating, it’s now scientifically proven to be good for kids!
Get out there this weekend and enjoy nature. Whether it’s a hike in the woods, a fishing trip, or a search for insects in the backyard, it is important to explore nature and watch your children bloom. For more information on the benefits of getting kids outdoors, check out Richard Louv’s book “Nature Deficit Disorder.”