Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Outdoor activities can play a crucial role in building resiliency and promoting mental well-being in our youth. A group of kids try a new outdoor endeavor at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
The end-of-year giving season is in full swing, and you’re probably hearing a lot of appeals from nonprofits to help fund their community impacts. There are so many crucial needs in our area, all of which are eminently deserving of your support; in a perfect world we would be able to help with all of the causes, but in the real world you’ll need to make choices about where to contribute your year-end donations in a way that aligns with your ideals, priorities, and your hopes for the future.
I’d like to make a case for the importance of getting western slope kids into outdoor educational and recreational programs as a long-term solution for many of the issues facing our youth, and our community at large.
What impact does an early introduction to the outdoors have on who a child will become as an adult, and how are they affected physically, mentally, emotionally—and even morally as they grow up? As it turns out, we can directly connect childhood exposure to outdoor activities with positive long-term outcomes.
It’s no secret that children are frequently neglecting more physical, outdoor forms of play in favor of the digital world—reducing kids’ screen time is often a major struggle for parents. Computers, mobile devices, and video games are passive forms of entertainment, and they don’t call for physical coordination, strength, endurance, or any of the other attributes necessary for a healthy body. Outdoor play, on the other hand, promotes all of these things, and is a natural method of encouraging physical activity in young people.
A 2015 metanalysis of studies regarding the effects of time spent outdoors on children found, “outdoor time is positively related to physical activity and negatively related to sedentary behavior in children aged 3–12 years'' (Gray, 2015). The more outdoor time children have the more physical activity they take part in and, conversely, the less sedentary behavior they display.
Many people spend time outdoors because it brings them a sense of happiness and well-being. If adults who have grown accustomed to the ways of the modern world still need to get away to nature every now and then to stay happy, surely children must benefit from these quieter natural spaces as well.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a 2018 study showed that the more time children spend in nature and the greater sense of connection they personally feel with nature, the less likely they are to experience psychosomatic symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, headache, stomach ache, backache, and other physical afflictions. The benefits start with as little as 30 minutes of outdoor activity per week (Piccininni, 2018).
As we consider ways to address the increasing prevalence of mental health challenges in young people, including a disproportionately high suicide rate in our area, outdoor activities can play a crucial role in building resiliency and promoting mental well-being in our youth.
Physical activity, cognitive development, emotional well-being—these things are relatively easy to quantify in research. But what about something like the desire to preserve our natural areas, or an understanding of the importance of good stewardship practices for our public lands? Can we quantify these outcomes?
Though it’s more difficult to show a correlation between time spent outdoors during childhood and an individual’s likelihood to become a good environmental steward, it has been shown that the amount of time spent outdoors has a direct correlation with a child’s feelings of connection with nature. This sense of connection with the natural world then has a direct influence on behaviors related to environmental stewardship in children such as, “conserving water, turning out lights, recycling, talking about the environment, and picking up litter” (Andrejewski, 2011). The more time we can get younger generations to spend in the outdoors, the greater sense of connection they’ll feel with nature, and the more likely they will become involved with environmental stewardship and preservation.
As you consider how to distribute your year-end donations in our community in a way that most aligns with your values, know that when you donate to organizations that provide opportunities for local kids to get outdoors for science education and recreational field trips, you’re not only directly contributing to their physical and mental well-being—you’re also helping to raise a generation that will value our natural environment and ensure the preservation of public lands for years to come.
Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) is a non-profit organization that promotes opportunities for youth and families to go outside, experience outdoor activities and explore nature. To contribute through Colorado Gives Day and multiply the impact of your donation, please visit https://www.coloradogives.org/organization/friendsofyouthandnature
Andrejewski, Robert, et al. “An Examination of Children's Outdoor Time, Nature Connection, and Environmental Stewardship.” ScholarWorks@UMass Amherst, Proceedings of the Northeastern Recreation Research Symposium, 2011, https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=nerr.
Gray, Casey, et al. “What Is the Relationship between Outdoor Time and Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Physical Fitness in Children? A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 12, no. 6, 8 June 2015, pp. 6455–6474., doi:10.3390/ijerph120606455.
Piccininni, Caroline, et al. “Outdoor Play and Nature Connectedness as Potential Correlates of Internalized Mental Health Symptoms among Canadian Adolescents.” Preventive Medicine, vol. 112, July 2018, pp. 168–175., doi:10.1016/j.ypmed.2018.04.020.
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