Thursday, February 2, 2012

Deborah McNelis: Nature + Kids = Healthy Brains!

Again, I would like to say what a pleasure it is to be a part of this group of talented and passionate people who care so deeply for children. My mission is to easily create awareness and understanding of all that developing brains need most. I do this through fun and engaging presentations throughout the country and through the unique brain development activity packets and an App I have created. The exiting thing is, the people contributing to this blog are part of creating a greater awareness of the positive experiences children need for healthy development!

I just realized this is being posted on Groundhog Day! 
This is a PERFECT opportunity to get children outdoors to learn and have fun. They can ....
  • pretend they are a groundhog and find hiding places
  • learn about shadows and what creates them
  • play shadow tag if it is a sunny day
  • have fun digging holes 
Here also is a sample activity idea from the, Naturally Developing Young Brains activity packet for preschoolers.

On a sunny day have me stand very still on the sidewalk or driveway. Outline my shadow with sidewalk chalk.  Have me color in my features.

Physical activities enhance the coordination of my brain with my muscles. Watching TV or DVDs does not provide the learning my brain needs!

Isn’t play the best? Don’t you just love all the fun, laughter and learning that results from time to play?  I continuously pr­­omote how critical it is for children have the opportunity to play for optimal brain development. 

But, if we REALLY want to create healthy brains we need to ensure children have lots of time to play and explore…. OUTDOORS!!

It is so wonderful to have increasing amounts of research demonstrating the benefits nature and playing outdoors has on the developing brain. For example, studies reveal that children regularly exposed to green spaces for play have:
  • better motor coordination
  • fewer attention-deficit problems 
  • are better able to problem solve
  • have a greater ability to concentrate 
  • have better memory abilities 

Nature provides an extremely rich learning environment and it also relieves stress. The highest thinking brain areas function best when relieved of stress. The brain is able to think, imagine and be most creative when relaxed. It is so extremely important for young children to have opportunities to relieve stress levels. 

A study conducted at the University of Michigan compared the difference between students who walked through an arboretum and others who walked through a busy downtown area of a city. The findings revealed that the students who had walked through the city had lower scores on tests of attention and working memory and were in a worse mood.

Additionally, not only does science show us the benefits gained from time outdoors, but numerous sources are revealing the detrimental impacts the lack of nature plays. This is the reason Richard Louv writes and speaks about how we need to ensure everyone realizes the impact of, “nature-deficit-disorder”. 

In his book, Last Child in The Woods, author Richard Louv shares insights and research on how valuable nature is for children's development. One quote from North Carolina State University Professor, Robin Moore states:

"Children live through their senses. Sensory experiences link the child's exterior world with their interior, hidden, affective world. Since the natural environment is the principal source of sensory stimulation, freedom to explore and play with the outdoor environment through the senses in their own space and time is essential for healthy development of and interior life. This type of self-activated, autonomous interaction is what we call free play. Individual children test themselves by interacting with their environment, activating their potential and reconstructing human culture."

Louv also includes a statement from Standford University School of Medicine professor, Frank Wilson:

"We are creatures identified by what we do with our hands. Much of our learning comes from doing, from making, from feeling with our hands; and though many would like to believe otherwise, the world is not entirely available from a keyboard..... For a whole generation of kids, direct experiences in the backyard, in the tool shed, in the fields and woods, has been replaced by indirect learning, through machines."

This article in USA Today, shares information on a report from the AAP on the need for more physical activity for children in childcare settings

As all of the wonderful Pre-K+K and Sharing contributors write about and promote ….

Children need opportunities to explore, experiment, manipulate, experiment, change, wonder, discover, practice, push their limits, yell, move, sing, pretend and create.

How terrific it is that there is so much information on this topic to share that it makes it difficult to include everything in this one post!

This fabulous article, A Nature Preschool Enhances Early Childhood Brain Development
from Audubon magazine shares information about a remarkable and inspirational program with which I am fortunate to collaborate. The preschool at The Schlitz Nature Audubon Center is recognized world-wide. We partnered in developing the, Naturally Developing Young Brains Packet together. A portion of the proceeds goes toward promoting and supporting nature preschools. These are now available for use as a fund raiser for your program as well!

Have you seen this tremendous post from Jennifer Kable on Let the Children Play yet? She is finding and sharing great nature play areas on Pintrest.

There are two exciting conferences coming up for early childhood educators on the topic of nature learning! 

Nature-Based Preschool Conference, in Michigan in May.
Nature Preschool Conference, in Maryland in June.

Do you already know about these great resources.......?

I just posted this link in my Brain Insights January Newsletter also. I am very excited about this! 

 SERIOUSLY! The future depends on play is a creative documentary that turns the work ethic on its head and reveals how vital play is to our health, happiness, and the future of life.

It is extremely difficult for me to stop….. I just want to continue to share more resources, articles and information with you.  I do post new articles and research on my website, blog, pintrest, and now on, so you can continue to benefit from more information on all that contributes to growing brains.If you have resources that you are excited about on the topic of nature and outdoor play, please share them with us as comments below!

I hope you enjoy a magnificent, fun and playful day…. preferably with time outdoors! 
Your brain will love it! 


  1. Simply delightful! We are huge fans of outside play and average 4-6 hours outdoors when the weather is nice =)

  2. GREAT post - I pinned it!! My little boy once told his grandpa that he was an "indoor boy." What a wake-up call THAT was! Thanks for the reminder about the great outdoors.


  3. NO KIDDING! A parent visiting a school I teach music and movement at remarked to me today: "It's great that the kids go outdoors here every day! Weather is something you dress for, not avoid!" HOORAY. Now let's all get off our computers and go outdoors!
    Miss Carole

  4. Great post, Deborah! The importance of kids having time in nature can't be emphasized enough. I pinned your post to my Exploring Nature Pinterest board at


We would love to hear from you! Please feel free to leave a comment below....

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...