Nature's Ability to Foster Growth

By Dineen, Maddie | Parks & Recreation, July 2017 | Go to article overview

Nature's Ability to Foster Growth


Dineen, Maddie, Parks & Recreation


Childhood Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) diagnoses have been on the rise in the United States for the past few years. Between 2003 and 2011, the prevalence of the disorder in school-aged kids rose from 8.4 percent to 12 percent, a 42.9 percent increase (www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151208150630.htm). The significant rise in the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD has sparked a national debate on the best treatment for the disorder. Traditionally, treatments have focused heavily on the use of prescription medications, but an emerging body of research indicates that nature-based interventions could be an effective alternative to the use of pharmaceuticals.

ADHD is a brain disorder characterized by an ongoing pattern of hyperactivity and/or inattentiveness that can hinder work, play and academic pursuits in children. There are few interventions in existence for ADHD, but almost all of them include the use of prescription stimulants, such amphetamines (Adderall) and methylphenidates (Ritalin). While these medications have been proven to effectively treat ADHD, they also carry the potential for moderate-to-severe side-effects, including cardiovascular problems, abdominal pain and increased anxiety. The use of environmental education programming as an intervention has the potential to reduce the symptoms of ADHD in children without the potentially harmful side-effects of medications, while simultaneously providing kids with increased opportunities to connect to nature.

Some of the most important work on this topic has come out of the Human-Environment Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois. In a series of studies, researchers found that green outdoor spaces foster creative play, improve children's access to positive adult interaction and help relieve the symptoms of attention-deficit disorders. They also found a direct correlation between the amount of nature and increased functioning--the greener the setting, the greater the benefits. "Activities in natural, green settings were far more likely to leave ADHD children better able to focus, concentrate," they concluded

While the body for research on pharmaceutical treatments for ADHD is large, there is little published research on using nature-based interventions, and more research is needed before nature-based intervention is accepted as an evidence-based solution. In an effort to address this dearth of research, Bellingham Parks and Recreation and Camp Fire Samish will launch a study to measure the impact of environmental education programming on foster children with ADHD.

Camp Fire Samish, an outdoor adventure camp in Washington state, has partnered with Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department to bring outdoor learning and adventure to children in the Pacific Northwest. Camp Fire Samish has piloted a few of these studies in the spring, and now that it has learned the benefits nature provides to young minds, it wants to act swiftly in the implementation of additional outdoor programming. The camp is in the process of developing an outdoor stewardship program, called INVEST (Implementing Nature's Values Empowers Stewards of Tomorrow), which is run out of a local park.

We are determined to provide equal access to the great outdoors for all children, regardless of the socio-economic status of their parents, so scholarships are available to those who apply. …

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