Friday, February 06, 2009

Another Good Reason for Kids to Have Recess

And for them to have trees and bushes and flowers and the like on a playground, not just flat grass, pea gravel, and plastic and wood play structures: there's good evidence that "interacting with nature" improves cognitive function, especially memory and attention. And if your kid has ADHD, the more nature the better.

I read an interesting newspaper article on this research last month: How the City Hurts Your Brain, by Jonah Lehrer (and kudos to the Ann Arbor Chronicle for it's blurb on UM research that lead me to this). Unfortunately, our recent weather (just how many mornings has the temperature been in the single digits or below zero?) has pretty much kept all of us indoors. We don't even have to go out to walk the dog anymore. And as much as I like WiiFit, I did suspect that it's just not quite the same as actually jogging, snowboarding, or taking a yoga class or walking to school.

Well, it's going to be above freezing this weekend, and I'm determined that we go on some of the "nature hikes" we had been doing that my kids complain about but seem to enjoy once we're actually out there. One of the authors of the study cited above notes that "People don't have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits. We found the same benefits when it was 80 degrees and sunny over the summer as when the temperatures dropped to 25 degrees in January. The only difference was that the participants enjoyed the walks more in the spring and the summer than in the dead of winter."

I wondered about the "urban walks in Ann Arbor" part of the study - I mean, Huron Street isn't exactly New York City, don't all those trees in Tree City help mitigate the stress of this urban setting? The study noted that participants walked in the Arb and at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens for the "nature" part of the study, which sounds good. I found myself wondering how a suburban neighborhood falls in this natural/urban continuum. And congratulating myself for buying a house on the edge of town, with its views of rolling farmland and a couple of barns and lunch trees.

I'm reading Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot right now, finding it much easier going than The Wordy Shipmates (yeah chapters! short chapters, even), if not as good historically. Her essay on "The Strenuous Life" touched on these indoor/outdoor themes, and as someone who would rather read than ski, ice skate, or even take the kids sledding, I found myself agreeing with her guilt about liking the indoors. Plus, this line made me snort:

What if I'm perfectly content that, on any given day, my only communion with the earth is watching the sun set over New Jersey or burning a "geranium jasmine oak moss" aromatherapy candle? (p. 194)

So I decided that I'm reading Bernd Heinrich's Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival next, and we'll contemplate hibernating animals while we slosh through the melting snow and mud sometime soon. Whether we like it or not.

1 comment:

rebel said...

So for those times that my kids are crying that I'm the meanest mom in the world for making them go out for a walk, I can just reassure them that they don't have to enjoy the walk to get the benefits.