In March, I had the opportunity to speak to a group at the Pennsylvania Recreation and Parks Society (www.prps.org). Their annual conference was held at Seven Springs Mountain Resort and the theme was Back to the Future. My topic was Family Nature Clubs. My objective was to impart to Parks and Recreation professionals the positive impact that can be seen when families spend time in nature together, and hopefully provide some inspiration to start their own family nature club.
After I had my own children and I hit the trails in our community with them in tow, I often asked myself, where are all of the other families and what are they doing? Of course the longer I’ve been at this parenting thing, the more I’ve learned, (always a learning experience), and so now I have a few answers that have inspired more questioning and a little action. I knew then how I felt about being in the woods and what it did for me and my children, but had no knowledge of the data that backs up those feelings.
This idea of maintaining our connection to nature through the generations is not a new one. Every generation, it seems, has had doctors, philosophers, scientists, artists and others who have lamented whatever loss they have witnessed, and made an effort to better connect the children of the time to the natural world around them.
Today, there is no shortage of research to back up these feelings of mine. Recently, some very interesting connections between our brains and bodies and the natural world around us have been discovered. Here are some of the facts that I found to be the most shocking or interesting;
- American children today spend an average of 7 ½ hours a day engaged with technology, outside of school.
- It has been discovered that engagement with our gadgetry actually does create a dopamine response in the brain, much like addiction to junk food, alcohol or other drugs.
- Access to and activity in natural areas, views of natural areas and even pictures of natural areas provide more cognitive enhancement than a built or urban setting. Willingness and interest in education increases and test scores increase.
- Girls in particular are able to put off short-term gain and perform better in tasks of concentration with views of natural areas.
- In another study, large groups of 5 year olds who were most aerobically fit also had the highest scores of attention. Those who had the best balance also had the most efficient working memories.
Parents note fear of abduction or abuse as top reasons their children are not playing outside alone. Needless to say, kids don’t play outside as much as in the past and neither are their parents. So, my question is, why don’t the parents play outside with the kids? It would do them a world of good too!
- Mental fatigue seen in today’s workforce leads to impulsive and rash behavior.
- For adult workers, distractions that gadgetry and endless information provide detract from productivity and well-being.
- A young adult in North America today has a 1 in 3 chance of suffering from depression as compared to 1 in 10, 2 generations ago.
- Walks in a natural setting while on break, placing potted plants in workspaces and providing natural lighting, all increase worker productivity. Additionally, workers report higher self-control and tolerance of others and lower anger levels.
- Recently, biophobia, the fear of animals and natural environments, was listed as a diagnosable condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Historically, biophilia is the theory that we have an innate connection to the natural world around us.
Many people who have a connection with nature point to their grandparents as a key factor.
- Living in a rural environment versus a suburban or urban environment is associated with a significant increase in Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), which normally declines with aging.
- DHEA promotes other chemicals such as nerve growth factor, key in maintaining cognitive function as we age.
Nature, at the very least, is a stress buffer. Invite families in your community to benefit by playing outside together. They don’t have to be expert naturalists to reap the benefits. Simply start by just enjoying the nature near to you! Build on those experiences and begin to know and love the individual plants and animals in your own community. Studies show that having positive experiences in nature as a child leads to greater concern for and conservation of natural resources as an adult. To learn more:
•Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and the Nature Principle, The New Nature Movement and others, http://richardlouv.com
•The Wolverine Way interviews, http://thewolverineway.com
•Fed Up With Frenzy, Suz Lipman, http://www.slowfamilyonline.com
•Your Brain on Nature, the Science of Nature’s Influence on Your Brain, Eva M. Selhub, Alan C. Logan, http://www.amazon.com/Your-Brain-Nature-Influence-Happiness-ebook/dp/B00DB3KTT0/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400110738&sr=8-1&keywords=your+brain+on+nature
•The Children and Nature Network, www.childrenandnature.org
• Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Nature Play program, http://www.minneapolisparks.org/default.asp?PageID=1159
•Handbook of Nature Study, www.handbookofnaturestudy.blogspot.com
•Film, Mother Nature’s Child, http://www.mothernaturesmovie.com