Outdoor recreation and child development

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You've heard it before: Hiking is good for your mind, body and soul.
In previous blogs, I've written about the benefits of outdoor recreation on your heart, your bones and joints, your skin, and mental health.  But the benefits of outdoor activity don't end there.

According to a 2016 report by the University of Missouri at Kansas City, children who engage in outdoor recreation not only reap the same benefits as adults, but also develop better mental acuity, sociability and problem solving skills. The report shows exposing kids to the outdoors as early as infancy increases brain development and the creation of neural pathways in the brain that stay with them for the rest of their lives. The more neural pathways a person develops, the easier it is for them to learn and comprehend.  A 2009 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that kids who engage in outdoor recreation tend to be "nicer," have better social interactions and put a higher value on community and close relationships.

But in the age of incessant non-stop technological distractions — cell phones, video games, television, and, most distracting of all, social media — social interactions have suffered, and kids spend less time outdoors. It takes some effort for parents to get their kids outdoors.

To get a little more perspective, I asked a few moms about how outdoor recreation has impacted their kids. One mom, Wendy, told me that one of the benefits of hiking for her son is that "it has made him more confident and knowledgeable". He remembers many of his hikes and feels a sense of pride over the reactions he gets when telling adults of his accomplishments, she says. Her son is most active when outdoors with the absence of modern technology. For her normally very active 4 year-old daughter, "hiking is where she found her 'Zen,'" either sleeping or, quietly taking in the sounds and sights outdoors.

Another mom, Michelle, told me that her kids play and make friends with other kids they meet outdoors that they might not otherwise meet, and they make those friends pretty easily.  Both mom's say that their hikes and outdoor activity with their kids help them learn. They can identify rocks, birds and flowers that they see on the trails, and, presumably, this may give them an edge in school.

With spring break just a few weeks away, and the end of the school year coming fast on its heels, and a so far mild winter, there's no better time to get the kids outdoors and interacting with nature and other kids. Their future may depend on it.

Happy Trails!

Bob Falcone is a retired firefighter, photographer, hiker, college instructor, business owner and author of Hiking Bob's Tips, Tricks and Trails, available via his website. He has lived in Colorado Springs for 25 years. Follow him on Twitter (@hikingbob), Facebook (Hiking Bob), Instagram (@HikingBob_CO) or visit his website (Hikingbob.com). E-mail questions, comments, suggestions, etc to Bob: info@hikingbob.com.

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