Monday, August 18, 2008

Outside With the Brain of a Child

But dad, we haven't been outside since this morning!
-The Wethergirls as I try to watch the Olympics

I consider myself blessed in that my two little girls love the outdoors. Asking if they want to run to the nature preserve is always answered with loud cheers of joy. They'll spend hours splashing in the creek, chasing grasshoppers, or collecting pretty rocks. Every night after supper we have to go for a walk around the block so they can pick flowers, play with grass clippings, or make dog-poop jokes (people, PLEASE pick up after your pooch!). I take great joy in their demands for the outdoors.

Uh, unless I'm exhausted from work... I must admit there are some evenings when I wish they could be mindlessly, effortlessly entertained by the dusty, black box in the corner of the living room.

Especially during the Olympics. They weren't astounded by the synchronized diving, the uneven bars, or the fact that Michael Phelps is really Aquaman (that last bit is understandable considering how lame of a superhero Aquaman really is. I mean really, you know The Batman and Wonder Woman makes jokes about Mr. Fishy behind his back. Superman is too goody-goody for that. I'm guessing Superman invited Aquaman to join the Justice League out of some sense of Noblesse Oblige... uh, but I digress). Miniwether did find the women's pole vault to be pretty cool, but now I'll have to keep an eye on her and my collection of bamboo poles...

Anyway, my girls get about ten hours of outdoor's time per week, which, compared to my childhood is NOTHING. Still, it turns out this "green time" has benefits above and beyond wearing them out so they'll sleep well that night.

Recent studies have shown kids diagnosed with ADHD show much fewer symptoms after playing in some natural setting. Luckily for cityfolk, "natural" is defined as any place with a few trees, some shrubs, and a patch of grass.

The working theory is playing is such an environment stimulates all the senses at the same time. Touch, smell, sight, hearing, and even taste are being bombarded with inputs that mankind evolved to notice, lest he becomes lion food. Without this rich mental activity the brain starts to pace like a wild animal in a cage. The results can be...disruptive. One does not get such rich nerve stimulation unless maybe they live in a very windy bakery.

Now, if you really want to get your kid's brain pumped there's one thing in particular you can do with him/her while outside:

Throw things at stuff.

I'm not kidding! We are a species of thing-throwers. Our brains, eyes, and arms are fine-tuned to throw rocks at meat. Kids who spend time throwing things at stuff develop much better eye-hand coordination, but they also develop a better understanding of physics and trigonometry. It's not easy, there's a bunch of subconscious calculations needed to accomplish that feat. It's a heck of a mental workout.

Plus, it's all a lot cheaper than a Wii.

Peace be with you.


Wildcat said...

You picked a double bit axe as your thing to throw? Cool!

One neat thing about walking the neighborhood each night. I found a house around the corner that has a ton of yucca growing in the front yard. Anyone up for a midnight yucca trimming raid.


Packman said...

Hmm. Not sure Mrs. Packman would approve of the throwing axe at this point, but two year-old Firstborn Son loves going out back to play with his new T-ball set and pick tomatos. If we take him to the park, he's in heaven, and indeed, much better behaved when we get home.

Off topic, any resources for conclusively identifying a tree that sure looks like it's loaded down with cherries? Mrs. Packman won't let me pick them until I know for sure. . .

Merriwether said...

Okay, the throwing axe is mine, but someday the Wethergirls will give it a shot.

As for the possible cherry tree, can you send me some pictures (leaves, fruit, and whole tree)? What the crushed leaves smell like and where it is growing (shade, sun, old farm, deep forest...) could also help me ID it. Or you could find your local county extension office and ask them (they'll want the same info). The nice thing about using the county extension office is if y'all get poisoned it's not my fault. ;-)