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10 Ways Playing Outside Will Make Your Kid Smarter

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When I was a kid, I lived outside. Most warm evenings would have me and most of the neighborhood kids riding bikes, building forts, catching lightning bugs, or just laying in the grass until the streetlights blinked on or our mothers called us for dinner. I grew up in an age when organized athletics for five year olds were rare, when parents didn’t orchestrate their children’s every waking moment, when mothers and fathers didn’t feel so pressured for their kids to perform and succeed. There was an abundance of free time and my mother didn’t want me in her hair. I am a much better person for it.

Today, the average American child spends as little as 30 minutes outside in unstructured play each day. Let’s be honest, that’s not enough time to organize a game of stickball or terrorize the neighborhood in a bicycle gang or even to get lost in thought lying in the warm spring grass. What are our kids doing with their time? Most of it is spent indoors behind a desk or dazed behind an electronic screen. The average American child spends as much as seven hours using electronics every day.

It’s a sad fact that our kids would generally rather FaceTime with their friends than actually play with them.

But aside from “free time” spent on computers and tablets and cell phones, parents are overly concerned with artificially enriching their children’s lives. Organized sports, and dance classes, and math camps, and scouts are where parents want their kids to spend their “extra” time. By organizing and carefully constructing a childhood, they hope to give their kids a leg up in the human rat race.

It’s a common thought that if a child isn’t spending time in school achieving academic excellence, then they should be studying and completing worksheets, and if there is still time left over, they should be engaged in carefully coordinated activities designed to make them better, smarter, higher-achieving people. All of this is going to have to go down on college applications one day, so we might as well start now and make it look good.

But there is no “extra” time. Kids are like us, they only have time. There’s nothing extra, and too much is sucked up by living a script someone else has created for them. Kids need to write their own scripts, just like adults. They need freedom. And quite often, they need to be outside and engaged in free play to become whole human beings.

Parents, if you’re worried about your kid getting into Harvard (and if so, I argue that you might be worried about the wrong things, but that’s a subject for another blog post), you still might want them to back away from the worksheets and violin practice and just go outside. There are a number of ways that playing outside makes kids smarter.

1. Playing outside improves focus. A 2008 study from the University of Michigan explored the cognitive benefits of interacting with nature. The study found that just walking outside, no matter the weather, and no matter whether the experience was actually enjoyable, helped improve memory and attention by 20 percent. So even when they don’t want to put down the tablet, and they complain about being miserable, just send them outside anyway.

2. Playing outside stimulates creativity. During open-ended play, kids have to make up ways to entertain themselves instead of relying on adults to do it for them. Being outdoors where there are rocks and dirt and sticks presents limitless opportunities for play experiences. No two playtimes will end up looking exactly the same. Being outside presents a plethora of opportunities for imaginative play, creative building, and inventive activities.

3. Playing outside promotes problem solving. During free outdoor play, children make up their own rules. They learn what works and what doesn’t. They learn when to keep trying and when to try something else. If playing with other children, they learn what types of interactions promote cooperation and which cause frustration. By solving their own childhood problems, they’ll be much more independent problem solvers as adults. Practice makes perfect in this area of life. If never given the chance to practice solving their own problems, how can we expect them to magically do it once they turn eighteen?

4. Playing outside develops leadership skills. Playing together outside, children must negotiate rules of games and the roles they play in them. Natural leadership skills will be developed as they play. No special workshops or lessons required.


5. Playing outside improves language skills. Children are so often told that they must be quiet indoors. “Use your quiet, indoor voice,” we often hear teachers tell their young pupils. But outside, children are free to be loud. Instead of others encouraging them to hush, they can experience a freedom to speak that the indoors doesn’t always provide. Many children (especially boys) are able to find their voices outdoors. And cooperative play, gives plenty of opportunities to communicate with one another. Children may issue instructions to each other on the building of a fort or the intricate rules of a spontaneous game.

Being outdoors always creates a lush context for vocabulary development, too. From discovering tiny animals, to expressing changing weather and seasons, to describing the texture rich environment of trees and stones, children are encouraged by the outdoors to try out new words and make them their own.

6. Playing outside is multi-sensory. During outdoor play, a child uses all of his senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and even taste (If I had a dollar for every time I told a child, “Don’t put that in your mouth!”). Not all children learn the same way. By opening up experiences to all of a child’s senses, we help each child learn in their own unique way.

7. Playing outside relieves stress. It’s no secret that today’s kids are stressed out. As many as one in eight children and 20 percent of teens suffer from severe anxiety disorders. Modern children face pressure to perform from their parents, their teachers, and their schools. Children and their parents start thinking about colleges as early as kindergarten, and school systems place a huge emphasis on student test scores. It’s no wonder our children feel stressed out. But more than 100 research studies have shown that time spent outdoors reduces stress, anxiety, and depression. The cure for childhood depression and anxiety is literally waiting right outside our door. And a relaxed and unworried person makes a better learner.

8. Playing outside makes children healthier. You might not think that healthier equals smarter, but sick kids miss school and can easily fall behind. Besides, learning is more difficult when you don’t feel well. Spending time outdoors strengthens immune systems, making children healthier and less prone to catching common illnesses, and therefore less likely to miss school.

9. Playing outside encourages physical activity. Outside, children are free to run and jump and climb. There are opportunities to be physically active that just aren’t available in most indoor environments. There is a growing body of research that shows how physical activity positively affects brain health. Here are just a few:

  • A 2007 study from Columbia University discovered that regular exercise increased blood flow by 30 percent to the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.
  • Psychologists at the University of of Illinois found that physically fit children scored better in a series of cognitive challenges.
  • A 2007 German study discovered that after exercise, people learned vocabulary words 20 percent faster than before they exercised.
  • A Swedish study showed that cardiovascular fitness is associated with cognition in young adulthood. The researchers hypothesize that aerobic activity produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain.

10. Playing outside is fun. Learning is easier and longer lasting when it is fun. Being outdoors riding bikes with friends, organizing neighborhood “army” battles, and rushing to home base in impromptu games of tag are just plain fun. Those are the experiences that will stick with kids long after they’ve grown up and moved on to the “real world”.

So if you want your kid to get into Harvard, you might just want them to step away from the homework and just go outside and play. They’ll be smart for it… and certainly happier, too.

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Health

Biden to Ban Menthol Cigarettes, Citing Health Impact on Youth and Black People

Elias Marat

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The Biden administration is reportedly planning to propose an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes, a product that has long been targeted by anti-smoking advocates and critics who claim that the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black people in the U.S.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the administration could announce a ban on menthol and other flavored cigarettes as soon as this week.

Roughly 85 percent of Black smokers use such menthol brands as Newport and Kool, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Research has also found that menthol cigarettes are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than unflavored tobacco products, along with other small cigars popular with young people and African Americans.

Civil rights advocates claim that the decision should be greeted by Black communities and people of color who have been marketed to by what they describe as the predatory tobacco industry.

Black smokers generally smoke far less than white smokers, but suffer a disproportionate amount of deaths due to tobacco-linked diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other causes.

Anti-smoking advocates like Matthew L. Myers, president of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, also greeted the move to cut out products that appeal to children and young adults.

“Menthol cigarettes are the No. 1 cause of youth smoking in the United States,” he said. “Eliminating menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars used by so many kids will do more in the long run to reduce tobacco-related disease than any action the federal government has ever taken.”

However, groups including the American Civil Liberties Group (ACLU) has opposed the move, citing the likelihood that such an action could lead to criminal penalties arising from the enforcement of a ban hitting communities of color hardest.

In a letter to administration officials, the ACLU and other groups including the Drug Policy Alliance said that while the ban is “no doubt well-intentioned” it would also have “serious racial justice implications.”

“Such a ban will trigger criminal penalties, which will disproportionately impact people of color, as well as prioritize criminalization over public health and harm reduction,” the letter explained. “A ban will also lead to unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement.”

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Environment

Pollution Is Making Human Penises Shrink and Causing a Collapse of Fertility, Scientists Say

Elias Marat

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With many still scoffing at the idea of rampant pollution posing a threat to humanity, a new study could drastically change the conversation: the chemicals across our environment could be the cause of shrinking human penises.

According to a new book by Dr. Shanna H. Swan, conditions in the modern world are quickly altering the reproductive development of humans and posing a threat to our future as a species.

The argument is laid out in her new book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.

The book discusses how pollution is not only leading to skyrocketing erectile dysfunction rates and fertility decline, but also an expansion in the number of babies born with small penises.

While it may seem like good fodder for jokes, the research could portend a grim future for humanity’s ability to survive.

Swan co-authored a study in 2017 that found sperm counts had precipitously fallen in Western countries by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her latest book, Swan blames chemicals for this crisis in the making.

“Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she wrote in the new book.

“In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35,” she also wrote, noting that men could have only half the sperm count of their grandfathers.

Swan blames the disruption on phthalates, the chemicals used in plastic manufacturing that also have an impact on how the crucial hormone endocrine is produced

However, experts note that the proper implementation of pollution reduction measures could help humanity prevent the collapse of human fertility.

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Health

Visualizing The World’s Deadliest Pandemics By Population Impact

Elijah Cohen

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Humanity has been battling against disease for centuries.

And while most contagious outbreaks have never reached full-blown pandemic status, Visual Capitalist’s Carmen Ang notes that there have been several times throughout history when a disease has caused mass devastation.

Here’s a look at the world’s deadliest pandemics to date, viewed from the lens of the impact they had on the global population at the time.

Editor’s note: The above graphic was created in response to a popular request from users after viewing our popular history of pandemics infographic initially released a year ago.

Death Toll, by Percent of Population

In the mid-1300s, a plague known as the Black Death claimed the lives of roughly 200 million people – more than 50% of the global population at that time.

Here’s how the death toll by population stacks up for other significant pandemics, including COVID-19 so far.

The specific cause of the Black Death is still up for debate. Many experts claim the 14th-century pandemic was caused by a bubonic plague, meaning there was no human-to-human transmission, while others argue it was possibly pneumonic.

Interestingly, the plague still exists today – however, it’s significantly less deadly, thanks to modern antibiotics.

History Repeats, But at Least We Keep Learning

While we clearly haven’t eradicated infection diseases from our lives entirely, we’ve at least come a long way in our understanding of what causes illness in the first place.

In ancient times, people believed gods and spirits caused diseases and widespread destruction. But by the 19th century, a scientist named Louis Pasteur (based on findings by Robert Koch) discovered germ theory – the idea that small organisms caused disease.

What will we discover next, and how will it impact our response to disease in the future?

Like this? Check out the full-length article The History of Pandemics

Republished from ZH with permission.

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