Learning from nature

Maple Ridge has lots of places to play to stay healthy

As populations shift towards urban and suburban environments, people are having progressively less contact with nature.

According to Statistics Canada, fewer than one in five people live in rural areas and Canada has the third lowest rate of people living outside of urban centers of all the G8 countries.

There is also a disproportionately low number of youth in these communities.

The David Suzuki Foundation found that 70 per cent of young Canadians spend less than an hour a day outside and instead pass almost eight hours daily in front of screens.

This crisis has reached a high enough level of recognition that it has earned itself a label as “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

The body of research around the topic of exposing children to more outdoor play is collectively showing a positive impact on children’s social, psychological, academic and physical health.

Young people who spend time outdoors have demonstrated lower levels of stress, more resilient immune systems and an overall sense of greater happiness.

Being outside has been known in certain cases to help reduce the symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and even nearsightedness.

Academically, students in outdoor classrooms showed improvements in social studies, science, language arts, and math.

Students in outdoor science programs improved their science scores by 27 per cent.

Interviewees for Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Lab know that it may even help you to get a job.

They were asked about their history of outdoor play as children because, according to the Canadian Parks Council, they’ve “found a direct correlation between hands-on play and superior problem solving skills.”

With all of these benefits, some parents still fear the risks of letting their children loose to play freely outside. Parents feel they have to protect their children from a world that is increasingly represented in media as a dangerous place.

Yet, they look back on their childhood freedom with fondness.

Parents’ busy schedules are also a contributing factor in children being deprived of outdoor time. According to Queen’s University parents and kids who “perceived more danger were less likely to be physically active outside even when the real crime rates did not match the perception.”

The way in which kids play in natural environments is less structured than most forms of indoor activity.

Being outside is more stimulating because it activates all of your senses.

When you are outside your senses of smell, sight, touch, hearing and even taste are engaged.

Getting outside makes kids far more active than staying inside and watching TV from the couch.

Outdoor areas allow for more free ranging and diverse play, which encourages the development of more imaginative means of entertainment.

Also, interacting with nature teaches children about responsibility. They learn about the consequences that human activities have on nature.

A growing disconnect from our natural environment is causing us to have a disregard for and to disassociate from our impact on the world.

It is important for children to learn how to respect living things.

Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are both teeming with green spaces for hiking swimming and playing, among other activities.

The Environmental School Project in Maple Ridge is making an effort to reconnect students to the natural world.

Locally, you can witness anything from beaver dam construction to nesting eagles and hunting herons if you take the time to explore the nature just outside your doorstep.

– Bronte Miner is a student at MRSS.

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