Wednesday, August 24, 2016


Claire Poole, PsyD
Families First Children's Treatment Center Clinical Director

My mother had a simple and effective go-to parenting strategy - go outside and play. "Outside" was the most important part, and my father contributed to the plan by setting aside a little corner in the yard for me to dig in the dirt and make mud. The other kids with their shiny new indoor toys were envious of my mud. To the intuitive mind of the child, this made perfect sense.

As with a lot of psychology, science is now catching up to the intuitively obvious. In recent years there has been an increasing stream of research showing that time spent in nature is good for the mind and body; my intuition tells me it is good for the soul as well. A walk in the park does more to lower blood pressure and stress than an equally strenuous walk on the treadmill. Grade school students in classrooms with windows do better than they do in rooms without windows, and when the window opens up on a garden or even a shrubbery the effect is more pronounced. Families who spend leisure time together in natural surroundings get along better and report higher levels of satisfaction in family life. Sailors on submarines who line up for the chance to see birds and the coastline through the periscope are more efficient and less stressed. Treatment programs for teens struggling with substance abuse, delinquency, or depression often include wilderness treks with positive effects. There is a long list of similar research findings.

This really shouldn’t surprise us. Through the ages wise men and prophets, from Moses and Lao Tzu, to St. Thomas and the Buddha, to Thoreau and Muir, have sought guidance and inspiration in the wild. When most families lived in a tribe, a village, or on a farm the natural world was part of daily existence. It has been like that for 10,000 years and more. In the modern world, really for just the last few generations, a great many people spend their entire lives without ever playing in the mud. I remember being in Grand Central Station in New York and realizing with a start that most of the people there had never seen the stars except for those painted on the station's ceiling. When was the last time you gazed at the Milky Way?

So here's my point. Let's turn off the TV, put down the tablet, and take our kids outside for a walk in the woods. It's good for them, good for the family, even good for the planet. And take it from me, mud squishing through your toes is one of life's little pleasures not to be missed.

For more great parenting tips, parenting resources, suggestions or support call the Families First Support Line at 1-877-695-7996 OR 1-866-527-3264 for Spanish-speaking parents. You can also e-mail with questions or concerns. Comments provided by non-Families First individuals are not the opinion of Families First.

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