Bundle up! Don’t let the cold stop you, get outside and play.

I just stumbled across this article, “Going outside—even in the cold—improves memory, attention,” that the TKF Foundation posted on their Facebook page, which is so timely given a conversation I had this morning.

I was talking with a friend about the importance of outdoor play for children (well, for all of us, but this conversation was about kids). We live in New York in the Hudson Valley, where it gets cold in the winter. It has been getting cold here in the winter for a long time (and I’m talking geological time), and yet last week, his son’s school barred students from going out during recess because “it was too cold.” It was 30 degrees out. Um, hello-o, that’s barely above freezing. People upstate, like in Buffalo, not to mention North Dakota, would just laugh.

A couple of months ago, another parent told me that her son’s school was using recess – or the withholding of it – as punishment. Misbehave and you don’t get to go out at lunchtime. This is like trying to put out a big fire by giving it more oxygen. Kids need exercise. They need to blow off steam. They need unstructured play. They need to socialize outside of the classroom.

This is, sadly, a common problem, which is why the Children & Nature Network and lots of other wonderful organizations have sprung up in recent years (for a partial list, see the Therapeutic Landscapes Network’s Get Out and Play! page). Access to nature – for play, for fresh air and exercise, for a sense of wonder, for growing the next generation of stewards – is critical, and we need to keep fighting for it. So here’s some ammunition for our fight:

The Case of Elementary School Recess by the U.S. Affiliate of the International Play Association.

Several studies by Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Landscape and Human Health Lab have proven the benefits of “doses” of nature for kids, including those with ADHD. For a good summary, click on this link: http://lhhl.illinois.edu/adhd.htm, and also “Children with ADHD Benefit from Time Outdoors Enjoying Nature.” Here are the actual citations:

Coping with ADD: The surprising connection to green play settings.” Andrea Faber Taylor, A., Frances Kuo, & W.C. Sullivan, (2001).  Environment and Behavior, 33(1), 54-77.

A potential natural treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a national study.” Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor (2004). American Journal of Public Health, 94(9), 1580-1586.

Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park.” Andrea Faber Taylor and Frances Kuo (2009). Journal of Attention Disorders, 12, 402-409. Click here for a good summary.

For a longer list of studies like these, with excellent summaries, visit the Children & Nature Network’s Research page and click on “Health benefits to children from contact with the outdoors & nature” in the yellow box.

The article I referred to at the beginning of this post is summarized here, and the full citation is:

The cognitive benefits of interacting with nature.” Marc Berman, John Jonides & Stephen Kaplan,  (2008). Psychological Science, 19, 1207-1212.

There is a ton more research like this, and the Therapeutic Landscapes Network is working to compile the most relevant of it to post on our website for easy access. Stay tuned. If you’d like to make a donation to help us with this effort, visit our Support page.

Many thanks to Guy for this wonderful image of Elio playing next to a Calder at Storm King on a chilly November day!