By Jeneen Mucci, Director of Program Quality and Training, Cambridge Youth Programs
Jeneen leading a workshop on outdoor education at our 2017 OST Symposium
As a little girl I was always drawn to the outdoors. Exploring my backyard or the woods with my canvas backpack and a thermos of chocolate milk, I would hike around, turn rotting logs over to see who made their underside their home, would listen for the chorus of birds that draped the canopy of trees, and I would be content just to be a part of the living and breathing landscape that allowed me to be part of something bigger than myself. There was a mysterious pull that brought me into a world that was exciting, challenging and new. It brought me a sense of peace and most of all, it brought me closer to myself.
This is what the outdoors can bring to young people. There is an excitement and nervousness with the outdoor world that can challenge and change a young person while, at the same time, bring a sense of peace and well-being. For me, the outdoors has been the ultimate classroom and its lessons the taught by the most challenging teacher. There is a power in this place and this power has the ability to test who we are, who we want to be and how we move not only in nature but through our lives.
Your Brain On Nature
When you spend time out-of-doors how do you feel? Do you feel calm, grounded, less anxious, healthy? The positive feelings that many of us get from being outside is not a coincidence. There is a lot of research and data that speaks to the effects of nature on our well-being. Researchers have noted that the benefits of nature and the outdoors affects our health both physically and emotionally.
Being in a natural space, doing things in the outdoors, even looking at the color green has proven benefits on our well-being which has included:
Better Academic Performance
Increased Engagement and Enthusiasm
Healthy Eyes and Vitamin D levels
Increased Physical Activity
Infographic on the benefits of spending time outside, from the Nature Kids Institute
Why Nature? Two Minutes, Two Hours, and Two Days...
Why does nature have such a positive effect on our health and wellness? Researchers have determined that being in nature for as little as two minutes has positive effects on stress reduction (these effects were observed by the monitoring of muscle tension, blood pressure and brain activity in those participating in outdoor activities). What’s more is that two hours in the outdoors has been proven to improve memory and attention span by 20% and those spending two or more consecutive days in the outdoors have shown signs of increasing levels of cancer fighting white blood cells by 50%!
"The great outdoors is an amazing classroom for learning, playing and being."
Taking young people into our natural spaces is an opportunity for them to connect with the natural world, build new skills and community, challenge themselves to take positive risks, learn about themselves, and to be in a place that brings them health and well-being. Do you want to bring the outdoors to your young people and don’t know where to start? There are many different organizations, training opportunities and resources in Cambridge, Boston and beyond that can support your learning and comfort with the outdoors and will provide you with tools, strategies and curricula. The following agencies and organizations are great resources to not only know what is in our area but also how they can support the work you do for young people at all challenge levels:
Going outside can be a safe, accessible and exciting experience for both your young people and your staff. Knowing why it is important to take them outside is as crucial as what you do with them in these natural spaces. Share the experience of being outside and the benefits of the learning in the outdoors will follow you and your young people wherever they go.