According to Science Daily, mycobacterium vaccae in soil is believed to have antidepressant qualities and could help you learn. People can ingest these bacteria while out in nature.
Researchers, who presented their findings at the 110th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, said that when they injected the bacteria into mice, the mice navigated a maze twice as fast and with less anxiety than other mice.
Science Daily reported that one of the authors of the study, Dorothy Matthews of The Sage Colleges in New York, said, “It is interesting to speculate that creating learning environments in schools that include time in the outdoors where mycobacterium vaccae is present may decrease anxiety and improve the ability to learn new tasks.”
Despite some mud pies and lots of time in the dirt growing up, I’m still not bright enough to know whether outdoor play makes you smarter. But my common sense tells me that it might well relieve anxiety and depression.
And so it’s not hard to support the many organizations that are pushing to increase the time that children and families spend outdoors.
Eight organizations—the National Wildlife Federation, the National Recreation and Parks Association, YMCA of the USA, REI, the Izaak Walton League, the Outdoor Foundation and the Children & Nature Network—have created the Outdoor Alliance for Kids (OAK) to support efforts to connect children and families with nature. The organizations are backing First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity through better nutrition and regular outdoor exercise.
Television, video games, texting, organized sports and homework fill much of the time that children used to spend climbing trees or playing tag. The National Wildlife Federation recently released a new study on children’s health that found that children today average only four to seven minutes a day in unstructured outdoor play. Only a quarter of children play outside daily, compared with nearly three-quarters a generation ago, the report says.
When I was growing up, it was routine for neighborhood children to come home, get a snack, and go play outside until we were called to dinner. My daughter played outside a lot less than I did—maybe because she was a girl and Barbie and Ken were indoor playmates, but also because times had changed. And now my grandchildren hardly ever go outside just for idle play. Like many children in urban and suburban settings, they don’t have a good, safe place to play outdoors, and their parents aren’t comfortable letting them roam the neighborhood the way I did.
Builders have been making houses bigger and yards smaller, and development has eaten up a lot of open space in many places, so part of the effort to connect children with nature is to encourage the preservation of open space and develop trails, bike paths, greenways, playgrounds and parks.
But it’s also a matter of parents encouraging children to turn off the TV and video games and find things to do outside.
Top Ten List
I think most of us realize that outside play has benefits, but the National Wildlife Federation has taken the time to compile a list of ten reasons parents should encourage outdoor play:
• Stronger bones and lower cancer risk. Lack of sun can create a Vitamin D deficiency, causing health risks.
• Trimmer and healthier kids. An hour of play a day can ward off obesity and diabetes.
• Improved eyesight. Recent studies show children who spend time outdoors have less nearsightedness.
• Less depression and hyperactivity. Time outdoors is soothing.
• Longer attention spans. Children who stare at TV and video games all day have less patience and shorter attention spans.
• Better at making friends. Children learn cooperation through outdoor play.
• More creativity. Playing outdoors sparks imagination and invention.
• Less “acting out” at home or school. Getting away from violence on TV and in video games helps children discover that violent behavior doesn’t solve problems.
• Better grades in school. Healthy minds and bodies clear the way for education.
• Longer lifespan. Sedentary and obese children lose three to five years in life expectancy.
If you are convinced of the value of outdoor activities, the next step is to direct children that way. RVers have the means of taking children and grandchildren on camping trips, and that, of course, is a wonderful way to expose youngsters to nature. And in this month’s issue you will find stories about a number of great places to visit in California, Nevada, Utah and elsewhere.
But outdoor play needs to be part of children’s everyday life, not just vacation trips.
There are a number of websites that suggest activities for outdoor play and explain what needs to be done to connect children with nature. They include the National Wildlife Federation’s website, beoutthere.org; the Outdoors Alliance for Kids site at outdoorsallianceforkids.org and the Children and Nature Network’s site at childrenandnature.org. Another good resource is the book Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, who coined the phrase Nature-Deficit Disorder to describe the estrangement of children from our natural world.
Write to Mike Ward, editor at RV Life magazine, 18717 76th Avenue West, Suite B, Lynnwood, WA 98037 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Find First Glance online at rvlife.com.