Growing Green Minds: The Benefits of the Great Outdoors

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Children benefit from time in nature outdoors. I spend as much time as possible with kids and see the results firsthand. Even if it’s just exploring in the backyard or at the park down the street, the outdoors provide an opportunity to engage all the senses — see, hear, touch, taste and feel — in a way electronics can’t. Kids exposed to nature early and often usually are more aware, have higher energy levels and increased levels of self-confidence. The evidence of needing nature for healthy childhood development is far more than just anecdotal.

Sample research findings:

  • Unstructured outdoor play provides excellent opportunities for cognitive, social, and emotional development in children (Burdette & Whitaker, 2005).
  • In a study of 400 youths, a majority reported that wilderness challenge programs had major positive impacts on their physical, emotional, and intellectual development and well-being (Keller & Derr, 1998).
  • Participation in green outdoor activities such as fishing was associated with reduced Attention-Deficit Disorder symptoms in a sample of children from the Midwest (Faber Taylor, Kuo & Sullivan, 2001).
  • Henry David Thoreau said: “…the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true for human beings.” In other words, let kids be kids — get them outside in unstructured activities so they can develop their affinity to bond with the natural world. Wander with toddlers while their imaginations soar and pay attention as elementary schoolers explore their expanding worlds.

Consider efforts to get your children hooked on nature to be an investment in your family’s health. Turn off the blackberry, put away the wallet and get outside! Getting involved is not as difficult as you might imagine. For ideas, visit:

  • The Chicago Wilderness’ “Leave No Child Inside” program
  • The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
  • Chicago Botanic Garden is a North Shore gem and packed full of opportunities.
  • Make 2009 the year of connecting your kids to nature.

For our youth, nature and environmental education shouldn’t be about melting ice caps and disappearing rainforests. Contemporary environmentalist and place-based educator David Sobel sums it up: “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it.” For older children inspired to make a difference, consider our local Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots organization.

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