The average child today spends about 12 minutes a day playing outside and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. Digital distractions are taking a toll on their health and well-being. Spending time outdoors isn’t just enjoyable — it’s necessary.
From 2019 washington post, those who got in two to three hours in nature were about 20 percent more likely to report high overall satisfaction with their lives than those who spent no time outdoors at all. The benefits to physical health were even greater, with those who met the outdoors benchmark being 60 percent more likely to report being in good health than their cooped-in counterparts.
Research published in Nature magazine shows just 120 MINUTES A WEEK spent walking forest trails or taking lakeside stroll greatly enhance a person’s overall sense of well-being. Children, especially, do better physically and emotionally when they are in green spaces, benefiting from the positive feelings, and attention restoration.
Richard Louv has coined the term “Nature-deficit disorder” for nature deprivation that children experience. It is not a medical diagnosis, but a useful metaphor to describe the human costs of alienation from nature.
Many children simply don’t know what they’re missing. It’s never too early or too late to teach them to appreciate and connect with the outdoors. A lot of studies have also focussed on how exposure to nature can relieve the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders, especially ADHD.
Priya is an 11 year old diagnosed with ADHD. Let us look at how time outdoors directly helped her control her reactions and curb her disorder.
Reduced Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Priya tends to have difficulty sitting still and often acts on impulses without thinking. Spending time in a natural environment, such as a quiet park provides a calm atmosphere that reduces the restlessness. The natural surroundings engage her in focused activities like observing birds, walking, or exploring.
Improved Attention and Concentration: Priya often struggles to pay attention for extended periods. Nature has a vast variety of stimuli. Different colors, shapes, and sounds in the environment captures her attention. Her parents observed and realized that the sensory experiences captivates Priya’s attention without her feeling overwhelmed.
Enhanced Executive Functioning: Priya usually has difficulty in organized, and managed tasks. Nature provides an unstructured setting. She engages in activities that kids of her age love. She likes building mud forts, arranging pebbles, & collecting leaves. These activities help develop her executive functioning skills in a fun and spontaneous way.
Stress Reduction and Emotional Regulation: Children affected by ADHD, like Priya, experience higher stress and extreme emotions. Being in nature has a calming effect on the nervous system, which helps Priya feel more relaxed and emotionally balanced. Dipping her feet in stream, for instance, reduces her anxiety and improves her mood.
Increased Physical Activity: Regular physical activity is beneficial for managing ADHD symptoms for Priya. Hiking, biking, or playing outdoor games are some of the activities that support Priya’s physical health and also release endorphins for a positive mood.
Boosted Self-Esteem and Confidence: Accomplishing tasks like climbing a small hill, building a campfire helped Priya with self-esteem. The quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy?. Participating and completing these tasks makes Priya feel capable and independant. It suppresses any negative feelings that occur because of her ADHD-related challenges.
Connection with Routine and Structure: Establishing a routine to spend time in nature, like taking a nature walk, or climbing a small hill nearby provides Priya with a sense of structure. This routine anchors her day, making transitions between activities a lot smoother.
Incorporating regular outdoor experiences into Priya’s routine played a significant role in managing her ADHD symptoms while promoting her overall mental well-being. Finding the right balance of outdoor activities that resonated with Priya’s interests and needs helped overcome ADHD challenges for her.
While many children with ADHD benefit from treatment like meditation, therapy, drug intervention. Nature therapy is one notable exception and a universally used treatment that’s proven to help. (Lancet, published May, 2019)
Although there are evidences that kids with ADHD benefit from playing outside, it's important to remember that each individual is unique. Even in ADHD they can be on any part of the spectrum.
Study: Researchers discovered that regular outdoor play in green space matters - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1758-0854.2011.01052.x