Time In Nature Feeds Young Brains, But How And Why?
We’ve heard it before: nature is good for our health, especially our kids. But how and why? Luckily, there is much scientific evidence to prove this point. There are national organizations and non-profits working to conduct research, gather and share resources and work towards a more nature-centric future for our kids and adults. One of those organizations is the Children & Nature Network, who’s mission is to increase equitable access to nature so that children and the environment can both thrive. This week on Biophilic Solutions podcast, hosts Jennifer Walsh and Monica Olsen spoke with Sarah Milligan-Toffler, the President and CEO of Children & Nature Network (C&NN). Sarah explains how access to nature affects our brains, how creating healthy habits as kids can carry into adulthood and how we can change our perspective on equitable access to nature.
Sarah has been with C&NN for about 8 years and has been working to connect kids and nature for her entire career. She worked for Wilderness Inquiry prior to joining C&NN, working specifically to connect young people and people with disabilities to nature, so her passion has been evident throughout her entire career. During her interview she explains that the vision for C&NN is “a world where all children have access to the benefits of nature everywhere they live, learn and play”. She then says that in order to reach that goal, their mission is to “increase equitable access to nature because we know that too often a child’s zip code, race and ability level impacts whether they have access to nature or not.“ We always assume that everyone has access to nature, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. This also ties into a previous episode of Biophilic Solutions with Dr. Tim Beatley, who talked about what makes a city ethical and biophilic - the gateway is nature, but how do we then incorporate the nature to parks, cities and create access for everyone no matter where you live.
So why is nature important for kids of all ages? We know that nature improves stress, improves mental and physical health, helps us focus and concentrate. Our wellbeing is supported and improved by spending time in nature, and this is also true for children. Sarah explains that habits we form when we are kids do carry into adulthood, so having access to nature at an early age creates a sense of engagement and comfort that may be more difficult to obtain when we’re adults. Another reason is that research really shows that nature connection aids brain development. We see that children who don’t have regular access to nature actually can’t fully develop the white matter in their brains, which is impacts their concentration, performance in school and all sorts of things like this. So nature not only makes us feel good, but helps our brains develop normally - who knew?
“We are part of nature. Our brains our wired to respond to natural forms,” says Sarah. We as humans are designed to develop with nature, so it’s important to recognize that we need these opportunities to reconnect to our source. Culturally, we have gone from a group of people who are very comfortable to a group of people who are scared of nature. Of course it’s necessary to be aware of what is around you and any potential dangers in nature, but it’s a shame how many people who live in totally urban places may have a fear of the natural world because of the unknown. This ties back to creating a love of nature at an early age - those who have never spent a regular amount of time in nature may not be comfortable or may totally fear the idea of going on a hike or camping trip. And those of us who grew up playing in the woods may even take that for granted and not realize what a gift that is.
A huge contributor to creating equitable access to nature is policy and recognizing the importance of regular access to nature. Sure, cities say they love and value their parks, but that’s usually the first thing to go when it comes to budget and staffing cuts. What would make a huge difference, Sarah says, is thinking of parks and nature as a part of the public health infrastructure. C&NN is working to flip that switch so that people start to see that if they don’t invest in nature as a part of public health infrastructure now, our kids will pay down the line. Sarah says people are waking up to this importance, including municipal leaders and families. So, while there is still so much work to do, we are stepping in the right direction towards a more nature-filled future.
Are you looking to increase your children’s access to nature? Listen to Sarah’s episode on Biophilic Solutions and reserve a spot for your kids in Serenbe’s summer camp, Camp Serenbe. Camp Serenbe is an outdoor haven where kids can be kids and explore the wonders of our natural environment. Kids from ages 3-12 spend their days outside exploring the trails, canoeing, archery, feeding animals and more. Register today and book your stay at The Inn at Serenbe for the whole family!
May 12, 2021