Winter Riddle: What can improve relationship skills, reduce stress, lower feelings of aggression, increase physical activity and improve overall health?
Answer: Spending time in nature.
Our campers tell us first-hand that spending time outdoors at camp changes them in positive ways. Here are a few things campers told us at the end of their camp experience that stuck with me:
“I learned that being on your phone isn’t that fun.”
Unfortunately, children are spending less and less time outside each year. *The Child Mind Institute tells us that the average American child is spending 4-7 minutes a day in unstructured play outdoors, and over 7 hours a day in front of a screen. This is an incredibly alarming report.
When I asked kids what they’d be doing if they weren’t at camp and were home they said one of two things: 1. Watching TV and 2. Playing video games. Every single camper I asked said they’d either be watching TV or playing video games, and yet they didn’t miss their electronics at all. (We are strictly media free at camp and confiscate all cell phones.)
Their lack of time outside is partially due to their challenging ability to access safe green spaces, but it’s also indicative of this younger generation that has very easy access to endless hours of technology.
I want to stress that I am by no means against technology. In fact, I think it’s amazing that my 4th grader is developing coding skills and teaching her less tech-savvy mom what she’s learned. She recently took a free coding class at the Apple Store that was really impressive and it inspired her to ask for a Sphero, a high tech robotic toy. Just the other day we went to the local library and took a free 3D printing class together, too. Really fun stuff!
Technology will always have its place, but nature helps to keep us grounded and involve other parts of the brain that are just as crucial to our well-being. It doesn’t have to be a choice between advancing with technology or spending time outside. It’s all about moderation and finding the right balance between the two that truly develops the whole child. We can do both and research shows it’s actually in our best interest to find that balance. **According to The Conversation, teens who used media up to 1 hour a day were actually happier than kids who used no media at all. But happiness steadily decreased as media use went over the one hour mark.
Turning off the screens can be a challenging parenting move as we deal with yelling, complaining and eye-rolls (at least in my house), but it seems to be worth it. You never know; if you join them on a hike or even just stand outside for ten minutes while they play, your grown-up anxieties may dissipate as well!
Mary Macias, Footpath President
*Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/
**What Might Explain the Unhappiness Epidemic?” https://theconversation.com/what-might-explain-the-unhappiness-epidemic-90212