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Nurture by Nature

Updated: May 3

How unstructured time in nature plays an important role in a child's well-being.


The statistics paint a stark picture: today's American child spends just 4-7 minutes engaged in unstructured, outdoor play daily. This figure is a sharp decline from two decades ago, falling well short of the recommended daily average necessary for both physical and mental well-being. It's a concerning trend, and it's been dubbed Nature Deficit Disorder.

But the remedy is a simple math equation: Kids + Time in Nature = Improved Wellness. Take them to wild places, let them feel the dirt between their fingers, encourage exploration amidst sticks and rocks, and bask in the sunshine (with SPF, of course). Provide ample time for them to roam freely, discovering the wonders of the natural world and forging connections with it. Better yet, involve friends and family for shared experiences that deepen the bond with nature.



Beyond the Backcountry Wilderness Area's mission to conserve our 13 square miles for habitat, it's to provide close-to-home nature opportunities for our community. But, what happens when our kids get the chance to reverse Nature Deficit Disorder. We've seen the results when our kids at Camp Backcountry and Wild Roots spend upwards of 35 hours in a single week outdoors. Turns out, time in nature does a whole lot of good.

Amanda Chaney, LCSW, who practices within Wildflower Collaborative Therapy and is a mother who raised her children in Highlands Ranch, attests to the transformative power of nature on the human brain. "Neuron pathways get formed and built," Cheney says. "Those pathways get exercised each time we engage in nature, and they become stronger."


Time spent in nature shapes and strengthens neural pathways, much like forging a trail up a mountain. With each venture outdoors, children build resilience, confidence, and a profound connection to the Earth and themselves.


Cheney says that when people are fully present we gain the opportunity to find the details that bring our world to life. "It's so important that this generation of kids learns to intentionally disconnect and not fully live through a virtual reality," Cheney says. "Kids need to see how the seasons change through plants and wildlife. They know that they can't control every situation and environment, but they can control their actions and impacts." They discover amazing things about nature and build resilience and adaptability in tandem with their exploration.

The evidence is clear: Children who embrace nature become the stewards of its conservation. They develop a reverence for wild places and a commitment to their preservation. Research confirms that time spent outdoors reduces stress levels significantly—a critical component of overall well-being in today's fast-paced world.

The Backcountry Wilderness Area serves as a gateway to nature for the residents of Highlands Ranch, nurturing a generation of conservationists and fostering community wellness. Investing in giving children the freedom to explore and play in nature ensures a brighter future for both them and the environment they inhabit.

As Cheney wisely notes, when children are deprived of time in nature, that's precisely when they need it most."That's where close-to-home access to nature is so important," Cheney reminds us.

For families seeking nature-based activities, the Backcountry Wilderness Area offers programs and camps: www.hrcaonline.org/backcountry to discover how the outdoors can impact your kids' well-being.

 

Lindsey McKissick is the Backcountry Wilderness Area Fund Principal Officer & Communications Manager for the Backcountry Wilderness Area. She is Colorado-born, Chicago-raised, and Wyoming-educated. For Lindsey, there is nothing better than waking up in a warm tent on the side of a remote river (or mountain) with coffee preferably made by someone else. You'll find Lindsey river rafting, backpacking, and camping with her husband and two adventure-seeking daughters.

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