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When kids connect to nature, benefits abound

Time spent in nature can improve kids’ problem-solving skills, self-confidence and their ability to focus.

During times of uncertainty, it is essential to recognize the constants that provide joy and groundedness to transcend politics.

Studies have shown that a connection between children and nature is one of the essential components to a brighter future. In fact, it has been shown that this connection may be one of the key factors in improving public health, education and economics as well as human happiness.

Many will remember the groundbreaking book by Richard Louv published in 2005, Last Child in the Woods. This book focused on what has been termed “nature-deficit disorder” and the effect it is having on children growing up today. Nature-deficit disorder was found to be a contributing factor to many problems affecting children, from obesity to attention deficit disorder to depression.

The benefits of being in nature are enormous and include increased imagination, problem-solving skills, self-confidence and the ability to focus. Another study shows that children who are in nature each day are more physically active, more aware of nutrition and are more civil to each other. And, on top of all this, children who are involved in environmental education programs increase their science testing scores by 27 percent. These attributes are certainly needed for the future of our country.

However, the pressures on children to stay inside are great. The lure of electronics, the fast pace of life, the lack of funding for environmental education programs and the dearth of green space in some communities all contribute to children not spending enough time in nature. This is also a problem for the environment itself. Children who do not learn to understand and appreciate nature do not have the same drive to preserve it in the future.

According to the Children and Nature Network, a resource which provides access to the latest news and research focused on the connection between children and nature, focal points must be identified to make sure a connection with nature is known to be essential for healthy communities. Of these focal points, nature centers and schools bear the largest responsibility for ensuring that this connection is fostered. Therefore, Durango Nature Studies has a responsibility. This is what we try to do through our programs. And, we are lucky to live in a community that has a school system that recognizes the importance of these connections.

As most folks in the community now know, Durango schoolchildren receive free, standards-based environmental education programs in every grade from kindergarten to eighth grade. This is something that very few towns in the nation offer and something we should celebrate and promote as a benefit of living in Durango.

With spring coming, we are gearing up for our kindergarten, first-grade and eighth-grade programs at the Nature Center. But these programs also open up the doors of opportunity to continue learning and exploring in nature. Registration is now open for our spring break camp and our summer programs and camps. Keep kids in our community connected to the natural world as a step toward a brighter future.

Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at sally@durangonaturestudies.org or 382-9244.