Take a Hike!

Written By:  Laura Duvelius, Director of Development

In 2005, Richard Louv coined an interesting term, Nature Deficit Disorder in his book, “The Last Child in the Woods”.  As an avid family hiker, (that is, active hiking in the woods with husband, two kids, and three dogs) I read up on this term and began to think about the possible implications for families like mine in the busy, heavily populated Washington, D.C. region.

I found some interesting research that points to the benefits of hiking and outdoor time that, incidentally, I had already noticed with my own children:

1.    When my child with ADHD returns from our hikes or simply spending time running around outdoors, she is more focused, more regulated, and more likely to complete tasks.

2.    For several days after dedicated outdoor time, my child is better able to sleep through the night without awakening or sleep disturbances. 

3.    As my children get older (10 and 12, respectively), allowing them more leadership in choosing our paths and deciding what we stop to investigate has gradually built a level of confidence that has carried over into their school, social and family lives.

There is an emerging body of research that clearly reinforces the link between time in the natural environment and overall wellness, particularly with children.   For example, Cheryl Charles writes in her article, “Reconnecting Children to Nature”  http://www.education.com/topic/nature-deficit-disorder/:

Nature Can Improve Mental Health and Cognition

Children’s cognitive flexibility and creativity are enhanced if they learn to problem-solve in natural settings rather than in highly controlled, human-dominated settings like concrete playgrounds and manicured playing fields with little ecological diversity. There are also mental health benefits to being outside. There is now a substantial body of work that indicates the simple act of going outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, depression, and attention-deficit disorders. The results are dramatic for people of all ages.

So families, as you begin another summer, consider adding hiking to your busy schedule-even if it’s just around the block or to a neighborhood park.  You and your kids may thank you for it! 

Here are some great resources for adding outdoor time to your family culture:

http://www.makeandtakes.com/10-tips-for-hiking-with-kids

http://www.everytrail.com/best/hiking-arlington-virginia

http://www.amazon.com/Hikes-within-Miles-Washington-Including/dp/0897325559

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