I was probably in high school or college when I realized that I had ADD. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s we were kids that had somewhat mild behavior issues (which explains the “Unsatisfactory” and “Needs Improvement” on my report card in my elementary grade years). I don’t think I was hyperactive but had a really hard time listening and focusing. Testing was difficult and any distraction or noise during those times just about drove me crazy. Outdoor sports were parts of life that I looked forward to. When I got into outdoor adventure activities in my late teens and early 20’s I realized how much more focused I was when I was in nature and performing some tasks that really required my full attention. I loved climbing because you had to be right there all the time and I realized that I could focus and keep my attention span for more than a few minutes.
Recently two articles (see link below) on nature and our brains and children with ADD/ADHD were written by a woman named Florence Williams. One appeared in National Geographic and the other in Outside Magazine. The article in Outside specifically targeted teens with ADD/ADHD and how an outdoor program called SOAR has had a great deal of success in working with these groups (mostly boys) and how they met with that success. SOAR just happens to be in our backyard right up the mountain from Gwynn Valley. What’s worked for them is shifting the whole academic year outdoors, where they alternate two weeks in their basecamp (rural and wooded) and then two weeks in the field. Their executive director states, “We’re not reinventing the wheel—we threw out the wheel.” They’ve found that outdoor pursuits like climbing, backpacking and paddling were a magic fit for their students. Ms. Williams states, “If you look at the symptoms of ADHD, maybe they’re not really symptoms anymore if you get in the right profession or the right ecological niche. We learned some of this by looking at extreme athletes, who found that niche.” The traditional classroom is probably not the place for these kids.
For these and all children, camp is such a respite from those classrooms where great things can and do happen, but it’s nature and the outdoors that we need so much. We need nature for the reasons above and to get us away from those screens that occupy so much of our time. You know the statistics and I won’t go there. Camp promotes exercise and fitness and studies consistently show that aerobic activity targets the same attentional networks that ADHD medication does.
In Ms. Williams Nat Geo article, “This is Your Brain on Nature”, she discusses how scientists are looking at how nature affects our brains and bodies. ”Everything from stress hormones to heart rate to brain waves to protein markers—indicate that when we spend time in green space, there is something profound going on. In 2009 a team of Dutch researchers found a lower incidence of 15 diseases—including depression, anxiety, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, and migraines—in people who lived within about a half mile of green space.” What researchers suspect is that nature works by lowering stress. Just a simple view from a window can make a huge difference.
One Stanford researcher says “Nature may influence how you allocate your attention and whether or not you focus on negative emotions.” Somewhere in our DNA we still have that connection to nature. Spending more time outdoors might be the antidote for our modern lifestyle and that distant connection to our primitive self.
I think camp is certainly much more than the antidote. When kids engage at camp, they stimulate the areas of their brain responsible for problem solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and creative thinking. They learn to cooperate living and working together and solving problems together. They gain resilience, perseverance, curiosity, self-control, and more! I urge you to read these two articles and get out there yourself and with your own children to enjoy the green space around you.