How Nature Benefits Our Children

Nature benefits are essential for healthy child development and yet more and more children are spending less and less time outdoors.

Nature benefits

Source: Pinterest

In his book Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” in reference to some disturbing childhood trends that have arisen over the years as children spend less and less time outdoors. The cost of being alienated from nature has been linked to obesity, depression and ADD (attention deficit disorder). Conversely, we have seen the numerous benefits that nature offers:

Children who regularly experience nature play demonstrate significant improvements in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning ability, creativity and mental, psychological and emotional wellbeing. They are also healthier, happier, more resistant to stress and depression, they perform better in school and they have higher self-esteem.

Nature Benefits ADD/ADHD

There has been concern in recent times over the increasing incidence of ADD and the need for drug therapy to manage these children. The good news is that a growing body of research supports the use of nature immersion as a form of therapy for improving the symptoms of ADD/ADHD.

Nature Benefits from Pictures and Sounds

The power of nature extends beyond our physical immersion within it. Even looking at and listening to the sounds of nature can make a difference.

Gazing at nature makes you more productive:

People who saw the roof with the grassy, flowering meadow made significantly fewer omission errors, and they had more-consistent levels of attention overall and fewer momentary lapses. But among the group who saw the concrete roof, performance fell after the microbreak.

Listening to sounds of nature boosts mood and performance:

When listening to the natural sounds, the workers not only performed better on the task, but also reported feeling more positive about their environment than they did when listening to other sounds.

Nature benefits

Source: Pinterest

Nature Benefits Our Children

Yet despite the powerful effects of nature, children are spending more and more time indoors – to their detriment.

21% of today’s kids regularly play outside, compared with 71% of their parents. – The Guardian

According to The University of Essex:

Just five minutes of “green exercise” can produce rapid improvements in mental wellbeing and self-esteem, with the greatest benefits being experienced by children.

The American Medical Association published a study in 2005 demonstrating that free and unstructured outdoor play makes children smarter, better able to get along with others, healthier and happier. Regular nature play enhances all the following qualities:

  • Cognitive: problem-solving skills, focus and self-discipline.
  • Social: cooperation, flexibility, and self-awareness.
  • Emotional: reduced aggression and increased happiness.

Stephen Moss, naturalist, broadcaster and author says:

“Nature is a tool to get children to experience not just the wider world, but themselves.” Climbing a tree is about “learning how to take responsibility for yourself, and how – crucially – to measure risk for yourself. Falling out of a tree is a very good lesson in risk and reward.”

Children need to get back outdoors – it is vital for their health and wellbeing.

Nature benefits

Image Source: Pinterest

See also: The Case for Nature – Research Support


A Call to End Early Starts in Education

We all know about the damaging effects of losing sleep. Some of us have also acknowledged how devastating it can be on our adolescents who have altered circadian rhythms that affect their ability to fall asleep early enough to accommodate the early school starting times. Yet, despite knowing all this, nothing much is happening on the front to delay the starting times for school.

Part of the problem lies in the entrenched belief that teenagers struggle to wake up in the morning because they’re lazy, or because they lack the discipline to sleep earlier. Perhaps if more parents realised that the problem lies in their teenagers’ internal body clock, there might be a stronger push to delay school starting times.

Then again, even if we were all on board, uprooting an entire school’s schedule is not easy to initiate. Not only will it difficult for the school but for the families as well. Those with more than one child will have children attending school at different times, making it harder to coordinate drop off and pick up. Pushing back the start time by one hour will mean hitting peak hour traffic which will defeat the purpose of starting later if we end up spending more time on the road getting the kids to school.

I remain hopeful that we will eventually find a resolution for this problem because many schools have already made significant headway towards improving the education system for our children. Meanwhile, if we continue to spread awareness of this issue, perhaps it might gain the attention it deserves. The following article published by Routledge outlines the crux of the problem:

Synchronizing education to adolescent biology: ‘Let teens sleep, start school later’

Paul Kelley, Steven W. Lockley, Russell G. Foster & Jonathan Kelley.
Volume 40, Issue 1, Learning, Media and Technology.

Study reveals that traditional student start times are damaging learning and health

A study by researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada has found that current school and university start times are damaging the learning and health of students.

Drawing on the latest sleep research, the authors conclude students start times should be 08:30+ at age 10; 10:00+ at 16; and 11:00+ at 18. Implementing these start times should protect students from short sleep duration and chronic sleep deprivation, which are linked to poor learning and health problems.

What are the optimal times for starting school?

  • 10 years old – 8:30am
  • 16 years old – 10:00am
  • 18 years old – 11:00am

These findings arise from a deeper understanding of circadian rhythms, better known as the body clock, and the genes associated with regulating this daily cycle every 24 hours.

It is during adolescence when the disparity between inherent circadian rhythms and the typical working day come about. Circadian rhythms determine our optimum hours of work and concentration, and in adolescence these shift almost 3 hours later. These genetic changes in sleeping patterns were used to determine start times that are designed to optimize learning and health.

The US Department of Health has also recently published an article in favour of changing the start times for Middle and High Schools.

Learn more at the British Science Festival

Corresponding author Paul Kelley (Honorary Clinical Research Associate, Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, University of Oxford) will be presenting Time: the key to really understanding our lives at the British Science Festival on Tuesday 8 September. As the British Science Association’s President of Education this academic year, Kelley will be advising the audience on how our better understanding of our body clock can benefit us all.

The Festival will take place from 7-10 September in Bradford, and provides an opportunity to meet researchers face-to-face and discuss the latest science, technology and engineering.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but if you’re in the region, you can still reserve your place at (space for some events is limited, so you’d better book now).


4 Reasons Why Kids Should Choose Physical Play Over Handheld Gadgets

Studies show that 64% of children in the UK play outside less than once a week. This is a worrying trend for parents, especially with childhood obesity steadily increasing. More and more children use handheld devices, such as tablets and mobile phones to access information, play and network with other children. In moderation, these technologies can have brain training and educational development benefits, but these are no match for physical activity in terms of overall health, cognitive development, and general well-being.

Improving heart health

Children require around 60 minutes of physical activity each day, with at least three days of rigorous activity and the rest at moderate intensity. Activities can include anything from swimming, skipping, jumping, dancing or climbing. As long as the children are moving and the activity increases their heart rate, it will contribute to overall heart health.

Fostering social skills

Much of the time spent sitting in front of a computer is solitary time, even if children are using online platforms like Facebook to chat and engage with their friends. Physical activity is vital for social and emotional development, and it improves confidence. Taking part in outdoor games, sports and activities teaches children important skills, such as teamwork, leadership, and empathy.

Stimulating brain development

Physical activity stimulates brain development in several ways:

Enhancing emotional well being

Studies show that those who meet the recommended uptake of exercise each day reduce their chances of developing anxiety and depression. Physical activity also releases endorphins (happy hormones) which improve mood and boosts confidence.

Encouraging children to get active

There are many ways to incorporate educational activities into your child’s routine whilst ensuring they are getting an adequate amount of exercise. Toddlers require around three hours of physical activity each day. You can easily incorporate this with easy, stay at home activities:

  • games like balloon badminton, newspaper hockey
  • dancing to music, musical statues
  • follow the leader
  • create an obstacle course from things you have lying around the house

You can also get children away from the computer or mobile phone screen and outside in the fresh air. Bouncy castles and inflatable toys, which you can find at Tesco online, are a fun way to get little ones moving and working up a bit of a sweat.

The benefits are clear – physical activity is good for your children’s general health, social skills, brain development, and emotional well-being. Now it’s time to get your children out there and active. They’ll thank you for this in their later years, or even before then.

Images by bimurch and The Big Lunch, used under Creative Commons license