Many parents urge their children to go outside to “burn off” excess energy.
But when it comes to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), parents have a tool at their fingertips that may not only help to burn off energy but also to improve the attention of their children.
This treatment comes without side effects and can be attained at little to no cost. This is good news for parents hoping to find more natural methods of coping with ADHD for their children.
ADHD is a neurobehavioral development disorder, affecting nearly 5 percent of children worldwide.
Symptoms typically include difficulty focusing on tasks and paying attention. Some children are outburst-prone as a result while others are at times aggressive. Impulsivity is a common effect on those with ADHD.
The Effects of Nature on ADHD
Solid research exists to show that regular exposure to green spaces can help to improve the attention of children dealing with ADHD symptoms.
Researchers Andrea Faber Taylor and Dr. Frances Kuo from the University of Illinois’ Landscape and Human Health Laboratory have spent years studying this topic, generating important findings on the positive relationships between ADHD symptoms and exposure to nature.
According to Andrea Taylor, there are two different types of attention: direct and involuntary.
Direct attention is a forced attention that we use on a daily basis to focus on everyday activities like homework, housework, washing dishes and driving a car.
The second type of attention, involuntary attention, is effortless. Have you ever noticed beautiful scenery or the delectable smell of a savory pizza cooking in the oven? These are examples of involuntary attention.
Direct attention is easy for individuals without ADHD to put to use, but for individuals with the condition, their reserves of direct attention are smaller and are thus depleted sooner, according to Faber.
How does nature come into play with all of this?
“One way to support children with ADHD is to help them recover from that fatigue.”
This means that giving your child a break from direct-attention focused activities will be helpful in rebuilding her stores, enabling her to better focus at a later time. Give her opportunity to roam outside in greener, more natural settings.
The Surprising Connection
The Attention Restoration Therapy says that contact with nature can support attentional functioning. Many adults have found that green exposure has helped to improve their attention.
But does it affect children the same way?
ADHD children have been found in a number of different studies to have experienced calmer focus and improvement in concentration and impulse control through exposure to outdoor settings.
In 2001, Andrea Faber Taylor, Frances E. Kuo and William C. Sullivan teamed up to examine the attention level of children with ADD after playing in a number of different settings.
Findings indicated that children who played in greener settings had a more significant level of improvement to their attention. This study also found that the “greener” the play area, the greater the improvement on a child’s attention deficit symptoms was seen.
More Science behind Nature Therapy as a Remedy for ADHD
Taylor and Frances E. Kuo, Ph.D. evaluated over 400 families with at least one child with ADHD who lived in the United States.
In this internet study, parents were to answer questions about the behavior of their child both before and after participating in activities in various different environments which ranged from indoor settings to cement covered parks along with more natural areas in the wild. Activities were matched across the various settings.
Taylor and Kuo were careful to examine children across diverse subpopulations to ensure accurate findings and to rule out any question about whether socioeconomic status had an effect on the results of attentional functioning.
As a result, the findings were consistent among different geographic regions, community types, income groups, age, gender and diagnoses (ADD or ADHD).
This study did find that overall greener outdoor activities significantly reduced symptoms more than activities in other settings.
Which Outdoor Settings are Most Ideal for the Best Results?
Because they knew there was likely a link between reduced ADHD symptoms after spending time in nature, Taylor and Kuo conducted another study in 2008 to further examine the attention levels of children with ADD after playing in three different environments.
17 children were taken on walks sometime during the span of a three week period.
The walks were conducted in a park, a downtown area and a neighborhood setting. Everything about the walks was kept as similar as possible.
Some children were given the “green” walk initially while others took it second or third.
Once the walk was completed, a researcher would test their attention using the Backward Digit Span, a standard neurocognitive test. In this test which cannot be practiced to improve one’s score, a series of numbers is said aloud and the child is instructed to recite them backward.
Once the tests were completed, each child’s performances after different walks were compared.
Children were found to have better performance after the walk in the park, proving that exposure to the greenest space offered the greatest improvement in attention.
Additionally, a 2011 survey by Dr. Taylor and Dr. Kuo determined that children with access to open fields or more natural environments seemed to have the greatest improvement in focus and ability to pay attention.
The study also found that children who were more susceptible to hyperactivity, namely those who had previously received a diagnosis of ADHD rather than ADD, had milder symptoms if they played in a more open space like an expansive lawn as opposed to a green space with a lot of trees or a built outdoor settings.
How Much Green Therapy Does a Child Need?
One thing that has not been determined is that benefits from outdoor exposure do not accrue over time, meaning that two hours of play will not necessarily give you a certain amount of days of behavioral improvement. However, it has been determined through these studies that as little as 20 minutes of nature therapy can likely generate a couple hours of renewed focus and attention to spend time on more direct attention focused tasks, like finishing homework.
Outdoor Activities Suitable for ADHD Children
Although studies have found that certain outdoor environments may offer better attentional functioning than others, any outdoor exposure is likely to reap benefits for your ADHD child.
When your child needs a break, encourage him to use his free time wisely, sending him outdoors. Find an activity that your child loves, not forcing any activities on him.
Make it a part of your family routine. Get outside yourself teach your child how to enjoy nature. Below are some great activities you can do with your child.
- – Go on a nature walk. Try to not make it too detailed unless your child has expressed interest in looking further into a plant or animal.
- – Draw pictures in the dirt or stand with a stick. Guess each other’s creations.
- – Watch where the wind moves for a couple of minutes.
- – Bird watching
- – Throw pebbles into water
- – Ride bicycles
- – Roam in a wooded area
- – Join a local sports team
- – Take a hike
- – Visit a local park
- – Set up a bird feeder
- – Stare at the clouds
- – Go fishing
- – Jump on a trampoline
- – Fly a kite
- – Visit a national park
- – Look at the stars or a full moon
- – Feel the bark on several different trees
- – Climb trees
- – Plant a garden
- – Catch insects
Is it cold outside?
There are still ways to enjoy nature during the cooler months.
- – Look for tracks of animals on snowy paths or in fields
- – Build a snow fort
- – Create a tabletop fountain
- – Put together a terrarium with small pets like turtles or hermit crabs
Whether you seek to find greener or more natural alternatives to medications for ADD or ADHD or you want to supplement your medication treatments with a natural boost, nature therapy is a proven and reliable option for improving your child’s attention and focus.
The only side effects might be a scraped knee or dirty clothes!