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Mother nature is good medicine

Anyone who has ever romped through the woods, peering for tiny creatures under moss-covered rocks, knows that nature has the ability to fascinate and inspire. It also has the power to heal. Research has shown that spending time outside improves our health and well-being—and children do especially well in nature. The natural world offers these newly discovered benefits for young people:

Green settings help kids stay focused. A recent University of Illinois study of 17 children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) found that they were better able to concentrate on a test after a 20-minute walk through a park than after strolling through a residential neighborhood or downtown setting. Parks may trigger a more restful effect on brain processing, which can help focus kids’ attention.

Tree-lined streets may prevent asthma. Researchers at Columbia University in New York found that 4- and 5-year-olds who lived along city streets densely planted with trees were less likely to have asthma than kids living in neighborhoods with fewer trees.

Kids move more outside. Australian researchers found that kids who spend more time outdoors are more active than children who spend their time in the house. Physical activity reduces the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

Nature protects kids from stress. A Cornell University study of 337 rural third- to fifth-graders found that those who had more access to green spaces were less affected by stressful conditions at home. It seems nature provides a sense of solitude and freedom for children, who become “lost” in the sights and sounds of the outdoors—and forget their own dilemmas.

Let’s go outside!

Lure kids into the great outdoors:

Watch clouds. Look up and see what’s floating by: a rabbit, a turtle or maybe even a T. rex?

Get dirty. Dig with small shovels or hands, add water and then get messy.

Be a collector. Gather fireflies in a jar or pick up colorful leaves and odd-shaped stones.

Identify bugs. Learn about the wondrous insects that call your yard home.