With more and more children being diagnosed with various attention disorders, depression, aggression, and obesity, a series of studies that endorse the restorative powers of outdoor play and access to nature are receiving serious attention. It’s time to get your kids outside with the trees and into the garden—any trees, any garden.
Green space and outdoor fun can provide the cure for what ails many children and it is up to parents, municipalities, and the education system to move forward in that direction.
Access to Nature Provides Therapy for Children
There are now more than 500 studies that demonstrate how access to nature and playing in green, outdoor spaces have positive effects on children. Check out a few:
- Richard Louve, author of Last Child in the Woods, describes studies that conclude mental health issues, obesity, and aggression decrease when children have access to nature.
- Studies from the University of Illinois conclude that outdoor playtime in green spaces reduces symptoms of attention disorders in children and fosters creative play—and the greener and wilder the environment, the better.
- A study that was carefully controlled for socio-economic factors and involved 900 Massachusetts elementary schools found that children whose schools had natural green play areas performed better on standardized tests than those whose schools did not.
- A repeat study in Chicago showed the same results.
Access to nature nourishes the mental health of our children, helps them relax, enjoy life, and perform better at school.
Green Space Contributes to the Well-Being Of the Community
The publication Green Cities: Good Health produced by the College of the Environment, University of Washington, cite studies that span several decades indicating that parks, trees, shrubs, and gardens in a community provides many benefits:
- Alters the temperature of the area and reduces heating and cooling costs
- Masks the noise of traffic
- Absorbs air pollution, which helps reduce early childhood asthma and breathing problems in general
- Absorbs rainwater
* Provides a habitat for wildlife
- Increases tourism in the community
- Improves property values
- Reduces crimes, such as vandalisms, littering, graffiti, domestic violence, property crimes, and even violent crimes
Many communities are beginning to recognize that green spaces and the concept of “going green” not only makes urban areas more attractive, they offer important safety and health advantages to citizens. As well, they bring people together in parks and public gardens where they can breath cleaner air, relax, and enjoy nature even in large cities.
How to Help Provide a Nature-Rich Life for Kids
Although you can’t control municipal laws or plant trees in the schoolyard, there are other things you can do to help your child access the healing powers of nature:
- Make a conscious effort to go for picnics in the park, throw around the ball, fly the kites, and play games that involve the whole family—the younger your children, the better.
- Contact local hiking and walking clubs for families (there are no fees for these) and find groups you can join with schedules that meet your family’s needs.
- Make sure there are other children involved in your hiking and walking and allow a lot of minimally supervised child-only-play on the rocks, on the beach, or among the trees to create opportunities for children to interact, and to make up games and rules.
- Family camping is great if your family can manage that, and sending children for a camping experience with trusted organizations or friends is also a good idea.
Even simple efforts like growing plants in your home, herbs on your windowsill and tomatoes on your balcony will help put children in touch with nature. Best of all is making sure your children have lots of opportunities for enjoying unstructured outdoor fun in green spaces with family and with other children.
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