By Dr. Danette Glassy
As a pediatrician in well visits with children and their families, I emphasize taking daily care of health through good nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep.
We always talk about being safe,and for the teens about staying away from things that are harmful like vaping, alcohol and drugs. But recently I have started to emphasize another important health influence: Nature.
Epidemiological studies suggest that when children spend time in nature they have:
• Increased physical activity
• Reduced risk of obesity
• Increased likelihood of remaining active into adolescence
• Reduced stress, anger and aggression
• Reduced risk of being nearsighted
• Boosted performance in school
• Increased focus and the greener the space, the better the focus
• Enhanced creativity, critical thinking and problem solving.
(See the Children and Nature Network research library online at www.childrenandnature.org/learn/research/.)
When I began to focus on this issue with families, I believed that our families of young children often got outside. But I have found that mostly babies and toddlers are experiencing nature from their stroller. It would be better for these babies and toddlers to be down on the ground to enjoy this time directly. Hold the babies up to touch the plants and rocks, point out the bugs and animals all around. Let the toddlers run and touch and play. Waiting until they are older may never happen.
I also found that even though we live in a completely temperate climate, rain often keeps my patients indoors. As the saying goes, “We do not melt.” Take young children outside even in the rain, just dress appropriately. I was so saddened by a recent 6-year-old who told me she was “not an outdoor girl.”
I have the privilege of serving on the board of directors for BestStart Washington, a nonprofit dedicated to building the resilience of children through partnerships in the community. The board of directors has chosen to develop a communications project that promotes young children exploring nature. We are making it easy to find green space. We are making it easy to be inspired to go outside. We are making it easy to connect with local community opportunities to explore nature from the back porch to a park or nature setting.
Check out the Project Nature website online at www.projectnaturewa.com. Families can enter their ZIP code and find nature experiences. There are blogs to inspire time in nature anywhere and for any age. Sign up for social media posts. Go outside today and every day.
Dr. Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at Mercer Island Pediatrics, providing a medical home for her patients for over 20 years. She is also an active child advocate working to improve the health and well-being of children and their families across the country. In this column she shares information of interest to families and caregivers as their child’s primary advocate. Information is her own view and not medical advice.