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July 4, 2018
Days filled with riding bikes, splashing in the pool, playing at the park or grilling dinner on the deck – the late sunsets and relaxed schedule of summer make it easy for families to spend time outside in nature.
And that time in nature, whether it’s on a beach or in your own backyard, boosts your brain. You feel better, behave better, focus better and perform better at work or school, studies say. Time outdoors lowers stress, promotes physical activity and inspires creativity.
But when vacations end and life’s demands heat up, setting aside time for nature can fall by the wayside. Here’s why it’s important to keep the outdoors in your life and how to make fresh air a year-round priority.
It may seem counterintuitive to step away when you most need to accomplish something. But taking breaks helps children and adults regain focus and return to their work refreshed and more productive, best-selling author Daniel Pink writes in his latest book, “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing.” The most helpful break? One spent in nature, Pink writes.
A short walk outside improves your mood and prepares you mentally to move on to the next task. For adults, a quick break in the afternoon can help you power through the rest of your day’s duties. At school, students benefit from time outside as well. In addition to daily free play outside, Corbett Prep students enjoy short stretches outdoors as they walk to arts, physical education and other specials classes. The brief walks under cypress trees and past a burbling fountain help the students arrive to their next class ready to learn.
Children are spending less time outside and more time in front of screens than ever before. Reports from Common Sense Media showed that tweens logged about 4.5 hours of screen time daily, and children 8 and younger spent 2 hours and 19 minutes on screen media a day.
There’s an easy fix if you start to feel like virtual life is taking over real life: Log off and head out. Author Richard Louv says kids need “Vitamin N.” His book by the same name guides families with activities and tips to make nature a bigger part of their lives. “The more high tech our lives become, the more nature we need,” he writes on his blog. Connecting to the natural world is part of our humanity, Louv says.
Going outside also benefits the body, even if your activity level remains the same. Scientists think exposure to natural light could help your eyes. Studies in “Optometry and Vision Science” reported that kids who regularly spent time outside were less likely to develop nearsightedness.
Think of all the amazing discoveries you and your child can make when you open the door. Teachers at Corbett Prep regularly use the campus as an extension of the learning environment. Middle school students monitor the health of the lake in science class, and younger children collect water samples to see the creatures that live there. The middle school’s aquaponics class raises fish to fertilize the plants they grow, while students studying Computational and Design Thinking build structures outside to improve the campus. After school, the garden club plants and weeds the school garden, raising herbs that Corbett Prep’s chef incorporates into school lunches.
A home garden provides valuable lessons for kids in where food comes from, the importance of caring for the environment and healthy eating habits. Or try monitoring the summer rains with a simple rain gauge, making bird feeders, mixing a solution for giant bubbles or roasting marshmallows in a homemade solar oven.
The easiest lesson? Invite friends over to play outside. Unstructured, child-driven play sparks the imagination and playing with others develops conflict resolution and social skills.
On the days when it’s too hard to head out or the weather has different ideas, try a window instead. Students working in Corbett Prep’s library look up from their books to gaze out of floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the lake. Third and fourth-grade classrooms overlook a small pond, where students have spotted herons and otters along with the peacocks that frequent the campus. Rather than distracting students, the view outside recharges drained batteries. Several studies have found that seeing greenery from school buildings can increase test scores, graduation rates and the likelihood students will attend college, according to the nonprofit Children & Nature Network.
Summer only lasts a few months, but nature is always there. Adding a walk around the block or an afternoon outside to your regular routine boosts your brain, body and spirit.