Sports & Activities

Get Outside for Happier, Better Behaved ADHD Children

One mom shares the creative ways she teaches her child with ADHD to enjoy spending time outside, and the benefits it has on behavior.

According to Scott Sampson, Ph.D., the author of How to Raise a Wild Child (#CommissionsEarned), “the average child in the U.S. and Canada spends about seven hours a day staring at screens and only minutes engaged in unstructured play outdoors. Yet recent research indicates that getting out in nature is essential for healthy growth. Regular exposure to nature can help relieve stress, mood disorders, and attention deficits. It can reduce bullying, and boost physical health and academic scores. Most critical of all, abundant time in natural settings seems to yield long-term benefits in kids’ cognitive, emotional, and social development.”

The benefits of spending time outdoors are undeniable. There is no substitute for fresh air, a dirt trail, the smell of the sea, or the warm feeling of the sun on your shoulders.

There are many ways to encourage the love of nature. Spending time in nature should always be an enjoyable event. As a mom of an active seven-year-old with ADHD who questions everything and wants to learn all the time, I prepare for our nature outings. We often go to the library and look for books about our state. We find books on wildlife, birds, historical places, trails, and maps. Let your kids photocopy a few interesting pages. Having knowledge, facts, and information about your surroundings encourages good conversation. Doing some prep work keeps my children engaged and happy with our outdoor activity, particularly when hiking and biking.

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How does being outdoors create positive energy in my household? The freedom to explore and use all of his senses lessens my son’s nervous, excess energy. Nature inspires his curiosity and turns the wheels in his head in a different direction. Learning outdoors, and not sitting at a desk, allows us to work on teamwork and life skills not achievable in a classroom. Last but not least, I am a firm believer that “children cannot bounce off the walls, if we take away the walls.” Outside is limitless. You can run, skip, and climb as much as your heart desires.

Need some help convincing your child or spouse to spend more time outside? Try buying (or borrowing) some new gadgets: a compass, hiking poles, a water-bottle holder for their bike, a watch, binoculars, or a GPS device. There are many fun things you can use to satisfy the child who enjoys a handheld gadget or something digital.

Say, though, you can’t get outside. It’s not your thing, you live in the city, you have no time, or it’s too hot or cold. How do you bring nature indoors? Here are a few ideas to try:

  • ¬†Cold, snowy winter days usually means playing in the snow is short-lived for my two youngest children. So I bring the snow indoors. They play around with it using mixing bowls, spoons, and a few random kitchen accessories. Or make your own “snow blocks” using ice cube trays.
  • Kids love to get dirty. Head to the local nursery and pick up a bag of soil and some indoor plants. Decorate recyclables (a milk jug, juice carton, or a glass jar) and use them as planters. Let the kids do all the planting and get their hands dirty. Use Popsicle sticks as plant markers. Or have your child grow plants from seeds.

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“Although firsthand experience is essential for fostering a love of nature, experience alone isn’t enough,” says Sampson. “Learning is also critical.”

Visiting museums, zoos, nature centers, and aquariums are great places to begin. Many nature centers have free children’s programs, similar to a library story hour. Go to the library and check out books on animals, geography, weather, and space can also spark interest in nature. Encourage your child to draw or write down his or her thoughts after reading a book. When drawing, discuss the details of the animal or plant to spark creativity and imagination. Incorporate flowers, leaves, sticks, pebbles, and grass into the art to make learning even more exciting.

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