These days, the great outdoors has to compete with video games, TV and the Internet for people’s attention and time.
A recent study links daily doses of a natural environment to a higher concentration level and increased self-discipline among children.
“Green space is not an accessory, but a necessity,” Andrea Faber Taylor, a conductor of the study, said.
Taylor’s research indicates that exposing children to nature daily, even for brief amounts of time, can help increase their overall focus, especially in kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.
Hundreds of educators and community members gathered at the University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum on Friday to hear Taylor’s findings and learn how to bring daily outdoor activities to children.
The study followed children’s day-to-day functioning and what effect an increased amount of time among trees and grass had on children’s self discipline, creative play, interaction with adults and ADHD symptoms.
The study, whose results were consistent among all genders, socioeconomic backgrounds and regions across the country, compared children’s time spent in green areas versus barren courtyards or downtown streets and how high their levels of attention were afterward.
Children suffering from ADHD had high concentration levels after outdoor activity, she said. Some mothers told Taylor their children had no ADHD symptoms following time outdoors.
In Minnesota where the weather is often unpredictable, Taylor said “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.”
She said while children coming in with muddy hands and boots can be a mess, parents need to encourage outdoor activity nonetheless.
“I can see why parents would think it’s a lot easier to clean up computer time than outdoor time,” she said. “But it’s worth it.”
The researcher said according to the attention restoration theory, nature can foster creative solutions to everyday hassles and stressors.
With school shootings, the War in Iraq and a poor economy, children need a connection with something hopeful, said Nancy Rosenow, executive director for the Dimensions Educational Research Foundation and speaker at the event.
Rosenow added the current disconnect with nature is due to fear and technology.
In one study, Rosenow said, 53 percent of children surveyed expressed a fear or dislike of nature instead of delight.
Children under 8 years old aren’t ready to be told about global warming or rainforest destruction, she said.
“We have to let children be children,” Rosenow said, adding children need to learn to love the world before learning how to save it.
Rosenow said the elimination of recess in some grade schools has hindered children’s participation in outdoor activities.
A solution, she said, is to bring classes outside, Rosenow said.
Not only do outdoor activities increase attention levels, she said, but also aid visual skills, close observation skills, confidence and community involvement.
Conference attendees didn’t only sit and listen to speakers. They got a chance to get outside and learn new activities to bring to their classrooms.
University regional extension educators Nathan Meyer and Andrea Lorek Strauss informed educators on the importance of not only sending kids outside to play, but to get them involved with bird watching, scavenger hunts or searches for interesting colors and textures.
Strauss said these activities increase close observation skills and social relationships.