5 ways military kids can benefit from nature plus 5 ways parents can make it happen

As a parent, it can be tough to know the best ways to support your children through all the changes, opportunities, and challenges that life in the military can bring. One helpful way to support your kids’ development is by encouraging them to spend time outdoors. Check out these 5 surprising ways your children might benefit from spending more time in nature.

  1. Increased attentiveness. Spending more time outside is linked to longer attention spans in young children. Some research even suggests spending time in nature might help reduce forgetfulness and relieve symptoms associated with attention deficit disorders in children. How? Well, some evidence shows being outdoors can help refill your kid’s “attention bank.” So when long days at school have depleted your child’s focus, being outdoors might help restore it.
  2. Reduced stress. Now this is a big one, especially for military kids who might experience extra stress such as a parent’s deployment or frequent moves. Children and tweens with access to nature seem to be less impacted by certain stressful events such as relocation, bullying, or peer pressure.
  3. Improved thinking abilities. Access to nature is an important part of positive brain development in children. When kids are outdoors, they have more opportunities to experience new sensations and explore their environments, which helps brain growth. Some studies show exposure to greenery might be associated with improved academic performance for high schoolers, including higher test scores, higher graduation rates, and plans to attend college.
  4. Strong social skills. Outdoor playtime provides a special opportunity for children to interact, learn, and work together. Whether they’re building forts or exploring wooded areas, playing outside opens a whole world of cooperation that children might not find indoors. Spending time outdoors also might be associated with improved social skills and friendships.
  5. Healthy bodies. It’s becoming more common that children live sedentary lives, watch more TV, and spend more time looking at screens. Being outdoors encourages your kids to move more because more time spent outside is associated with higher levels of physical activity. But it’s not just about fitness: Spending time outdoors even might help your child’s eye health and promote overall physical wellness.

“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”

–Marie Curie

Need a few ideas to help your family connect with nature? Here are 5 ways to get started.

  1. Just ask! Chances are your kids already have some ideas for outdoor fun. In fact, when children are asked about their favorite places, they often suggest somewhere outside!
  2. Find a room with a view. Even just having a view of the outdoors can lead to better cognitive and academic performance in teens. So if your children need to be indoors doing homework or other activities, open up the curtains and let the greenery and sun shine in.
  3. Take baby steps. Doing small things outdoors each day can make a big difference. Find parks or playgrounds in your area, have a picnic or a meal outside, or go for short family walks or hikes when possible.
  4. Try gardening. It’s a great way to spend time outside, connect to nature, and self-reflect, especially for teenagers. Teens who garden also report feeling more calm, peaceful, and relaxed.
  5. Go to camp. Outdoor camps combine nature with activities that encourage emotional and social development in children. Some military-specific camps also focus on the unique challenges that military kids face. Camp can provide an opportunity for children to build confidence and self-esteem, gain independence, and try new things as well. Parents often report that when their kids return from camp, they’re better at taking initiative, handling successes and failures, and adapting to change. Their kids’ attitudes improve too.

The National Military Family Association offers family-centered retreats for Service Members (active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard), Veterans, and their families through Operation Purple® Camp and other family programs. Hosted in wilderness settings, Operation Purple® programs are weeklong retreats that are especially designed to address the stressors that military families face. Participating families benefit from spending time outdoors, reconnecting as a family unit, and building new relationships with others in the military community.

Bottom line

Exploring nature can be an important part of raising healthy and resilient military kids. There are lots of ways, both big and small, that you and your children can get out there as a family. So take some time and plan a few outings your family can enjoy together in the great outdoors.

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American Camp Association, & Philliber Research Associates. (2005). Directions: Youth development outcomes of the camp experience. Retrieved from https://www.acacamps.org/sites/default/files/resource_library/report-directions-youth-development-outcomes.pdf

Chandra, A., Lara-Cinisomo, S., Burns, R. M., & Griffin, B. A. (2012). Assessing Operation Purple®: A program evaluation of a summer camp for military youth. Retrieved from Santa Monica, CA: https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2012/RAND_TR1243.pdf

Chawla, L., Keena, K., Pevec, I., & Stanley, E. (2014). Green schoolyards as havens from stress and resources for resilience in childhood and adolescence. Health & Place, 28, 1–13. doi:10.1016/j.healthplace.2014.03.001

Chawla, N., & MacDermid Wadsworth, S. M. (2012). The impact of an Operation Purple Camp® intervention on military children and adolescents’ self-perception of social acceptance, athletic competence, and global self-worth. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40(3), 267–278. doi:10.1080/01926187.2011.611782

Wells, N. M., & Evans, G. W. (2016). Nearby nature. Environment and Behavior, 35(3), 311–330. doi:10.1177/0013916503035003001