April 30, 2013

Go Outside and Play: Channeling the Power of the Great Outdoors!

From you have I been absent in the spring, When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim, Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing – William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98, 1-3.

Last week was William Shakespeare’s birthday, and the quote above perfectly captures the feelings that many of us, particularly children, are enjoying now that Spring seems to have finally sprung. Now that winter coats and boots are being stored away for another year and more time can be easily spent out-of-doors, students are chafing at the bit to get out as much as they can. While teachers and parents may bemoan this burgeoning lack of focus in the classroom and on homework, an article from last April’s Psychology Today argues that for students with ADHD time spent in nature can actually prove quite beneficial. Since there is a strong association between difficulties with executive function and ADHD, we thought we’d share this article and its findings in this timely blog post.


In the last decade, Drs. Frances Kuo and Andrea Faber Taylor have focused much of their research on the benefits of outdoor time for children dealing with ADHD. The Psychology Today article focuses particularly on their 2009 study that found that “…time spent outside can help reduce the impact of ADHD symptoms. Not only that, but park environments seem to have more an impact that city settings.” The students in their study showed improved scores on tests dealing with their attention levels after they had spent time walking in the park. The author of the article that cites this study, Dr. Stephanie Sarkis, concurs with its findings and states that in her counseling practice she has noticed that both her adult and child patients who have ADHD seem to enjoy the outdoors more than would be the norm. She has seen evidence that for many of her patients, being outdoors before they have to address a task helps increase their focus and improve their mood, making the chance for success even greater.

So how does this apply to our students at Engaging Minds? Obviously during the time they spend with us during our sessions, going outside isn’t really feasible (and Needham Street would hardly qualify as a “park-like setting”). But one of the things for which we advocate strongly is creating a balanced schedule for our students, and that often includes athletic commitments that would necessitate children being outside and having the opportunity to get some exercise, some fresh air and the chance to “reboot” their minds and their bodies in the outdoors. Likewise, we encourage students for whom attention and focus are issues to take scheduled breaks in their work, and now that the weather is nicer this can – and perhaps should – include stepping out of the house and into the yard or playground for some time in nature. The “nature time” referenced in the article and in Kuo and Taylor’s study was only 20 minutes long, and while parents may be concerned that their children will have trouble refocusing after time away from their homework this study certainly provides evidence to the contrary. And let’s face it – one of the prime justifications for in-school recess is the opportunity for students to get outside, cut loose a little, burn off some excess energy and return to the classroom renewed and ready to refocus on their schoolwork.

So the next time your child looks up from her desk and says, “I really need a break” rather than either encouraging her to get back to work or letting her just plop down in front of the TV or game console, why not let her take a short, timed break outside? You may find that she gets back to work with greater focus and a better attitude!