Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Nature: Good for ADHD and Allergies
What children today are missing, Louv says, is more than just another form of fun. Nature engages all of the senses in a way that few other experiences can. "We need natural experiences," he writes. "We require fully activated senses in order to feel fully alive."For those worried about stranger danger, a sidebar points out some interesting facts.
Louv supports his argument with recent studies suggesting that direct exposure to the outdoors can reduce the incidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), decrease stress, and boost children's creativity and concentration. Research has shown that "Kids who play outdoors were calmer, more open to conflict resolution, and did remarkably better in science and math," he says.
He cites research, such as a University of Illinois study, which suggested that children as young as 5 with ADHD show a reduction in symptoms when exposed to any kind of nature.
Another study showed that people who could see a natural vistaÂforest, landscape, or mountainÂfrom their hospital bed recovered faster than patients whose view was limited to urban vistas.
Why does nature have such a profound effect on the human psyche? Louv thinks that exposure to a nature setting demands "immersion attention"Âthe use of all of one's senses. That kind of exposure in turn boosts the brain's ability to sustain "directed attention"Âthe concentration and focus that allows a child to stay attentive long enough to, for example, finish a homework assignment
In the United States, fewer than 300 children were abducted by strangers in 1988. Strangers kidnapped 115 children in 1999, according to the National Incidence Study on Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Throwaway Children in America.Looking at my own experiences growing up and as an adult, I always value my time in the woods and otherwise outdoors. When I was 7 years old, my family moved to a new house on a large lot (1 acre plus), which was 75% wooded. Much of my neighborhood was wooded with 5 acres directly across the street that remained empty for several years. Living in an area located inside a Tennessee River horsesbend ben, if I walked a few hundred yards east or west I was at the river. A couple of caves were within a mile of our house. Needless to say, I spent a huge chunk of my free time engaged in various activities in the outdoors, exploring, canoing, spelunking, cliff climbing, fishing and more.
According to the 2005 Duke University Child Well-Being Index, children are safer now than they have been at any time since 1975. Violent victimization of children has dropped more than 38 percent.
When I selected the house in which I now live, the outdoor area won me over. The house itself is rather non-descript and needs a few repairs. Outside I have a little over an acre, a vacant lot on one side, a creek suitable for fishing behind the house, vacant woods across the street. Fish, ducks, and beavers populate the creek.
My kids and I love the outdoor area. Despite the ordinary house, no one ever speaks of wanting to leave. We also reside in a rural area. Several of my ex-wife's brothers farm. Outdoor experiences are abundant. I believe this exposure to nature gives them a perspective on the world and a great understanding of the ecosystem that goes beyond a scientific understanding and onto a grasp of the beauty and harmony of the natural world. (I hate to use the word "ecosystem" because it fails to embrace the art of the natural world.)
The May issue of National Geographic contains an article on allergies, "The Misery of Allergies." According to the article, many researchers now think that the extreme cleanliness of our society contributes to an increase in allergies. An early in life exposure to "beneficial microbes in dirt and animal waste may help the immune system distinguish later in life between real threats and bogus ones."
We need to remember we are a part of nature not an outside observer. Modern man developed a disconnect with nature. We don't want to get dirty, wet or have limbs and weeds brushing against us. But it may be the best thing for us.
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