This is a new one for me- but it is quickly becoming a huge passion-the importance and immense value of being out in nature- not just outside. In my years of childcare I’ve always aimed to take children outside, visit a park, explore nature and get fresh air. Parents nearly always express the desire that I daily take their child for a walk or do some sort of outdoor activity. These are some reasons I’ve heard most often and some things I’ve learned about the ‘whys.’
- Sunshine produces Vitamin D: 10-15 minutes of sunshine to the arms and legs produces 3,000-20,000 IU of vitamin D; fortified whole milk only provides 100 IU per cup!
- Fresh air is good for our lungs and bodies: fresh air is lower in pollutants, more oxygen dense and has significantly more negative ions; These factors are proven to increase endorphins, strengthen immune system,and improve sleep, metabolism and lung capacity!
- Good outlet for physical activity: just makes good sense.
- Wears kids out: supported by all of the above.
In addition, the Boston Globe published an article a couple of years ago entitled ‘How the City Hurts Your Brain.’ Four pages of fascinating! It speaks of the effects of city life on mainly adults but also children in comparison to spending time in nature. Here are a few quotes I found most interesting.
“Hospital patients recover more quickly when they can see trees from their windows, and that women living in public housing are better able to focus when their apartment overlooks a grassy courtyard. Even these fleeting glimpses of nature improve brain performance.” Pg. 1
“A city is so overstuffed with stimuli that we need to constantly redirect our attention so that we aren’t distracted by irrelevant things…. The mind is like a powerful supercomputer, but the act of paying attention consumes much of its processing power. Natural settings, in contrast, don’t require the same amount of cognitive effort.” Pg. 2
“Natural settings are full of objects that automatically capture our attention, yet without triggering a negative emotional response — unlike, say, a backfiring car. The mental machinery that directs attention can relax deeply, replenishing itself.” Pg. 2
“According to several studies, children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings. When surrounded by trees and animals, they are less likely to have behavioral problems and are better able to focus on a particular task.” Pg. 3
“In that stroll down Newbury, the brain is also assaulted with temptations — caramel lattes, iPods, discounted cashmere sweaters, and high-heeled shoes. Resisting these temptations requires us to flex the prefrontal cortex, a nub of brain just behind the eyes. Unfortunately, this is the same brain area that’s responsible for directed attention, which means that it’s already been depleted from walking around the city. As a result, it’s less able to exert self-control, which means we’re more likely to splurge on the latte and those shoes we don’t really need. While the human brain possesses incredible computational powers, it’s surprisingly easy to short-circuit: all it takes is a hectic city street.” Pg. 3
“Psychological benefits of green space are closely linked to the diversity of its plant life. When a city park has a larger variety of trees, subjects that spend time in the park score higher on various measures of psychological well-being.” Pg. 4
“When a park is properly designed, it can improve the function of the brain within minutes. As the Berman study demonstrates, just looking at a natural scene can lead to higher scores on tests of attention and memory. While people have searched high and low for ways to improve cognitive performance, from doping themselves with Red Bull to redesigning the layout of offices, it appears that few of these treatments are as effective as simply taking a walk in a natural place.” Pg. 4
All of this makes me wonder what studies more specifically geared to children would show about how a child’s brain is affected by city life in contrast to more natural settings. I also can’t help but wonder if school playgrounds are set up to provide maximum benefit for our kiddos. It also increases my appreciation for the only fully outdoor preschool of our nation. I shared this on Facebook not long ago, but it has really stuck with me.
Next time I’m spending time with kiddos I am even more eager to take advantage of the stuff God made and get out into rich, diverse and fabulous nature around us!
Next time I’m debating going to the gym to run on the treadmill vs. heading to a trail and enjoying some fresh air, sunshine and trees, I hope I begin to choose the latter.