Experts have long been asking the question…Do kids need the outdoors? Just like they need sleep, meals, education etc.? Our experience with outdoor adventure programs paired with other research and experience suggests that YES, yes they do! Spending time outdoors is believed to help build self-confidence, increase self-awareness, and improve interpersonal skills. It can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and aggression.
More and more, the daily activities and routines that make up children’s’ lives are happening indoors. Because our lives as adults are the same way, parents are reinforcing this way of life without realizing it. When given the choice, many kids will choose to stay indoors watching television, playing video games, or some other activity. In his well-known book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv gives this trend a name: Nature Deficit Disorder. While there are increased concerns in the parenting and child development community on the long-term impact of “screen time” on a child’s development, we should also be concerned about the immediate impact that growing up indoors has on social skills, self-confidence, and life skills that kids need to live emotionally healthy lives.
Many parents are turning to summer camp to combat nature deficits in their child’s life. Summer camp has long conjured up memories of cabin mates, lake swimming, arts & crafts, and camp fires, but for some kids who prefer to stay indoors, summer camp almost seems like punishment. Many of our campers here at SOAR struggle to make friends, often feel like outsiders at school, and would choose computer games over hiking any day. The idea of spending two weeks camping and living outside can be intimidating. However, it can also be life changing when given the chance.
The effects of a long-term outdoor experience, like summer camp, can resonate in multiple areas of children’s lives. So why do kids need the outdoors?
Any outdoor experience focused on kids is going to involve other kids! Whether it is summer camp, boy or girl scouts, a sports team, or a school sponsored trip, getting kids outdoors together can have a big impact on the way they interact with one another. Unlike school, the outdoors provides an environment that is naturally engaging and offers new experiences for many kids. As a group, they will be confronted with challenges that have to be addressed through communication, flexibility, and teamwork, helping build interpersonal skills that typically do not come easy for kids who are struggling socially. Completing challenging activities such as backpacking 20+ miles, rock climbing, or rafting class III & IV rapids also has a huge impact on confidence and the way kids see themselves. Realizing strengths and conquering fears gives kids a chance to rally around each other and not only begin to see themselves differently but begin to see each other differently. With this newfound confidence, stepping out of their social comfort zone becomes less intimidating.
Self-confidence is one of the biggest and most immediate impacts of being outdoors. In addition to helping kids feel comfortable to be themselves and pursue friendships, the confidence that comes with being outdoors improves self-image and can impact behavior at home and at school. Before each camper begins their experience at SOAR, we ask parents to describe their child’s level of self-confidence. We then ask the same question after their child has been home for about two weeks, and nearly 66% of parents indicate that they have seen an increase in their child’s self-confidence. When kids are placed in an outdoor environment, away from the comforts and routines available at home, they are challenged physically and emotionally. Naturally they begin to grow in areas such as independence, self-reliance, problem solving, teamwork, and so much more. Growth in these areas results in increased self-confidence, giving kids the push they need to persevere and reach their academic, social, and emotional goals.
Being outdoors has many therapeutic qualities. This is why we vacation by the ocean, roll our windows down on the way home, and prefer a big, green backyard. Nature and fresh air feels good! It lifts our spirits and leaves us feeling mentally refreshed. With the growing stress of being kid, especially a kid with learning and attention issues, hitting the refresh button is crucial to limiting behavioral and emotionally setbacks. An outdoor experience allows kids to unplug—from technology and life—and just be a kid! They get to try new activities, realize new strengths, appreciate home, and learn more about themselves in a non-threatening environment. The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s explains that our daily environments, such as work or school, require direct focus and force us to try and ignore distractions. Sounds exhausting right? Imagine if you are a 6th grader with learning and attention issues. Really exhausting! ART suggests that natural environments do the opposite. They require indirect focus, which actually helps to restore attention, allowing us to focus better when we return to our normal lives.
Kids need the outdoors! Make a conscious effort to spend more time outside with your child. Here are 12 Ideas for Getting Kids into Nature from Childmind.org. Also start thinking about your plans for next summer! A longer outdoor experience may be just what your child needs to begin reaching their goals.
Have a reluctant camper? Camp is fun! It is a wonderful opportunity to experience nature and learn more about yourself. Of course, parents know that! If you are having a hard time convincing your child, let us know! We’d be happy to answer their questions and explain more about the amazing adventures that SOAR has to offer.