By Amanda Hughens
STEM Outreach Manager, Strategic Educational Alliances
I think my mother was on to something when I was a kid by telling us to “Go outside and play” whenever we were not eating, sleeping, studying or doing chores.
I have fond memories of exploring the neighborhood, arranging large games of Capture the Flag and laying on the grass watching clouds go by. All the kids in the neighborhood would be out together most evenings until the streetlights came on, which was the universal signal to head home.
But over the past few decades things have changed. Studies show that children are spending less than half the time outdoors as they did just 20 years ago and that obesity rates and behavioral disorders are exponentially increasing. As an outdoor enthusiast, lifetime science teacher and mother of two young girls, I decided to look deeper into this. Spending time outdoors has a wealth of benefits for everyone, but especially children. The ability to experience firsthand the wonders of nature are astounding and have remarkable impacts on the mental and emotional growth of children.
My family always spends at least two weeks each summer camping along the Black River in Northeastern Arizona. I have always loved it but spending the last 10 years having two daughters there to experience it with me, has given me a different perspective.
I will never forget the summer when they were two years old and three years old and discovered dandelions and butterflies. While they picked almost every dandelion out of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Park and blew away the florets, I watched them as they discovered how things like air pressure, wind currents and flight. They asked about the seed pods and the life cycles of the flowers. They watched (and chased) as butterflies pollinate the multitudes of summer flowers, asking so many questions about how, why and when (thank goodness for Google!).
Over the years we have met herds of wild horses, seen many of the great Arizona wildlife, caught a variety of fish and learned about the remarkable ethnobiology of the great state of Arizona from the mountains to the desert. The natural curiosity and desire to understand how and why things happen is a byproduct of being outdoors. That is a skill that can only be developed and enhanced through experiences.
Studies have also shown that spending time outside increases the ability to focus and be more attentive. In a world where digital information is just a swipe away and multitasking has become commonplace, the chance to slow down and get away from the constant influx of information and entertainment is a blessing.
I find when I am out fishing or camping that the world seems to finally decelerate. The patience it takes to sit by a lake just watching a floating bobber for hours, sit on the side of a mountain scanning the hillside for wildlife or take a long hike without a destination lets the mind relax and stress levels dissipate.
By stopping the constant barrage of new information and relentless “to do” lists, allows us to take a breath and even reprioritize those things sitting on the “to do” list. I am always amazed at what comes out of my daughters’ mouths as we sit around a camp fire watching the flames dance or watch the clouds looking for familiar shapes. These are often our best talks.
By being forced to be “unplugged” from technology, my tweens now enjoy reading books, playing board games and doing craft, which usually has an impact on their willingness to do those things at home without an eye roll or deep sigh.
In a world that is always on the go, we need to make certain that we find time to “go outside and play” in order to reconnect, relax and refocus; to become healthier in mind, body and spirit; and to admire and explore the wonders of all He has given us.
Grand Canyon University’s Strategic Educational Alliances aim to help provide access to education for all students. Learn more by visiting our website or contacting us using the Request More Information button at the top of the page.
More About Amanda:
Amanda Hughens is the K-12 STEM outreach manager at Grand Canyon University. Amanda has more than 20 years of experience in education in all areas of K-12, including public and private, as well as classroom and administrative. Amanda has a passion for all things science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) both professionally and personally.