When my friend Lonner Holden read the June 16, 2016 Resources for Recovering Resilience post on Reset Your Child’s Brain, he reminded me that one of the best possible antidotes for the hyper-stimulation of hours on our screens is restful time in nature. And directed me to the Children and Nature Network that offers hundreds of research studies and news articles about the “nature-deficit disorder” many children are experiencing these days, with many practical tools to help kids recover from too much indoor (and screen) time by enjoying fresh air, greenery, and sunlight. [See activities below]
In Reset Your Child’s Brain, Victoria Dunckley suggests getting back to our natural roots is essential to protect the nervous system from stress, promote brain integration and reduce the risk for Electronic Screen Syndrome:
“Numerous studies have found that green surroundings enhance mental health and learning capacity by lowering stress levels, both immediately and over time. Attention restoration theory posits that green scenery produces “easy attention” by drawing the eye while calming the nervous system, creating a state of “calm alertness.” This state is considered ideal for learning and is in contrast to stress-based alertness, which depletes attention. A growing body of research tells us that greenery improves learning, raises grades, and reduces aggression, all due to its restorative effect on attention and arousal regulation….
“Of course, regular physical activity in green spaces, such as parks, fields, and nature areas, is very powerful. Closeness to nature and having the freedom to run and play outside may be the reason that children who live in rural environments have lower rates of attention deficit disorder and autism than do their urban counterparts. Help your child engage with nature by planting a vegetable or flower garden, visiting city parks and zoos, going on nature walks, and interacting with animals. For urban dwellers, drive out to the countryside as often as you can….
“Exposure to sunlight may help reduce attention deficit symptoms and abundant bright light first thing in the morning can help restore disrupted circadian rhythms, improve mood, and enhance restorative sleep. Many child go right to school in the morning without seeming much natural daylight, and at the end of the day they have too much light-at-night – exactly the opposite of nature. Resynchronize rhythms by having your child spend fifteen minutes or more outside each morning (or at least sit next to a window that lets in direct light) and by reducing light-at-night.”
Additional ideas from Richard Louv’s Vitamin N: The Essential Guide to a Nature Rich Life, 500 simple, creative strategies for getting kids outdoors and creating a lasting connection with the natural world:
In winter, freeze sheets of black construction paper and use them to catch and examine falling snowflakes (they won’t melt on contact) with a small magnifier.
In spring, use a back-yard rain gauge to track daily variations in spring rains.
In the summer, take advantage of the federal “Every Kid in a Park” program – free entry of every 4th grader and their families to national parks and federal public lands.
In the fall, gather fallen leaves, acorns, seed pods and place them in a clear glass “wonder bowl” on the kitchen counter.
Year-round, create a “world-watching window” in the kitchen, living room or any room with a view. Stock it with a nature notebook, a star-gazing guide, a bird identification book, binoculars. Practice “cloud spotting,” track the lengthening and shortening of days and the cycles of trees budding, greening, dropping leaves and standing dormant.
For a review of why balancing time on screens with time in nature is so vital to the well-being of your child, see the August 2016 newsletter Reset Your Child’s Brain.