Posts

By Sarah Laury, LCSW – May 7

Growing up, one of my favorite parts of summer was going away to summer camp. I counted down the days until school was out and I could start packing for camp. I loved meeting new friends, singing camp songs, learning about nature, and all of the camp games and activities.

I enjoyed returning summer after summer to see the friends that I had met the previous year and the camp counselors that I had gotten to know over the years. As a kid, I loved camp because of the friendships and experiences it offered. I had no idea that I was gaining important life skills that would benefit me throughout my adolescence and into adulthood. 

Most kids today spend around 180 days a year in a structured school environment. Many schools offer 20 minutes or less of recess per day, and most middle schools don’t offer recess at all. Kids are going home to a heavy workload of homework and then sitting in front of the television or playing video games.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, kids between the ages of 8 and 12 spend nearly 6 hours a day on some type of technology. In contrast, the average kid spends only 4-7 minutes playing outside. These numbers show a dramatic shift from the way time was spent by kids a couple of decades ago. 

The number of kids diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and ADHD has skyrocketed over the past couple of decades. Some experts believe that there is a correlation between the amount of screen time that kids are exposed to as well as lack of time spent playing outside and the rising rates of mental health issues among kids today.

Kids are stimulated by nature in ways that can never be replicated with screen time or video games. In nature, kids are generally more active and are using their imagination to engage in creative play and exploration.   

Another benefit of summer camp is the opportunity to be part of a community and develop social skills and relationships. In our society, much “socializing” among adolescents and teens is done over social media. At camp, kids are forming relationships and practicing social skills with their peers face-to-face in a community setting.

Most camps focus heavily on relationship building through ice breakers and team building activities. These activities allow kids to develop social skills, work cooperatively with their peers, feel a sense of belonging, and increase self-esteem.

As parents, we have to decide how much freedom we are going to give our kids to make their own decisions and solve their own problems. Decision making and problem-solving skills are both invaluable life skills.

At camp, children are presented with many decisions every day. Most importantly, kids are also exposed to the consequences of the decisions they make. For instance, if they choose to wear their wet socks from yesterday instead of the clean socks in their duffle bag, their feet will probably hurt. Do they try the high ropes course that they have repeatedly fallen off of one more time or do they give up? 

Trying new things (and trying again when they don’t succeed) is what builds resiliency and self-confidence in kids.  Summer camp is the perfect venue for developing these important life skills.   

By Kristen Melhiser, MSW, March 19, 2019 –

While living in Colorado for 11 years, I had access to vast beautiful landscapes and often found myself at great peace and wholeness when in nature.

What is it about nature that is so alluring and healing to the mind, body, and soul? Is it the beautiful landscapes and life in the flowers, plants, and trees? Is it the sounds of waves crashing, birds singing, and crickets chirping? Is it the smells of fresh cut grass, summer rain, and fall leaves?

There is a great deal of research to prove that exercise is extremely beneficial for a person’s mental health. Participating in outdoor activities often involves some level of exercise, but choosing to take a walk outside instead of inside on a treadmill also does so much more for the soul.

Wilderness Therapy (WT) is a fairly new concept in psychotherapy, but it is a term rarely heard in the Midwest. WT uses traditional therapeutic interventions, but it is not confined to a therapist’s office.

As the name explains, WT takes place in the wilderness where nature provides its own holistic healing. Being in the wilderness naturally brings out our survival instincts; it breaks down barriers, removes us from everyday norms, and creates an environment that doesn’t allow us to avoid certain problems.

With very few WT programs in the Midwest how can we approach this concept? It’s as simple as you think…just go outside!

In a world where teens are spending an average of six hours a day consuming social media, time away from electronics is necessary. Mental health issues are on the rise in adolescents because they are not able to cope with the pressures of social media or process the level of information they receive online.

I suggest you plan quiet time, slow life down a little, and stop to smell the roses (literally). Being out in nature has a way of slowing us down and removing our daily norms. It provides the break we all need, especially adolescents who are learning how to cope with the world.

Nature offers us the opportunity to reconnect our families and our relationships. More importantly, it provides a much needed mental break for all of us.

Whether you go walking, swimming, camping, hiking, or kayaking, go outside together. Spend that time reconnecting by teaching your children how to fish, change a tire, or plant flowers.

The point is to get outside and enjoy what nature has to offer. One of the best parts of nature is that it’s free; you don’t have to pay, you simply walk out your door.

I leave you with this challenge: Take at least one hour this week to go outside with your family. Increase the amount of time you spend outside each week and create new adventures.

Instead of pushing activities on your kids, give them several options so they feel less like they are being forced to do something and more like they are making the choice of what to do.

Now go outside and have some fun!

By Donna Wolter, LCSW, May 29, 2018 –

Warmer weather is here again, so that means we will be enjoying the great outdoors! What a long winter it has been!

Research continuously shows that being outside can improve our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.  Several research studies I’ve read recently validate that being outdoors or even looking at pictures of nature positively changes the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Stanford researchers concluded in a study that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that people who spent ninety minutes in a natural environment showed less activity in the area of the brain that is associated with depression compared to people who walked in an urban setting.

An article published in Business Insider by Lauren Friedman and Kevin Loria listed 11 scientific reasons you should spend more time outside:

  1. Improved short-term memory. A study with University of Michigan students found that the group that took a walk around an arboretum scored 20 percent better the second time they took a test compared to the other group that retook the test after walking around in a city.
  2. Restored mental energy. One study found that people who looked at pictures of nature vs. city scenes experienced a boost in mental energy.
  3. Stress relief. One study found that students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone often used as a marker for stress) than those who spent time in the city.
  4. Reduced inflammation. Inflammation in the body can be associated with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and cancer. A study showed that students who spent time in the woods had lower levels of inflammation than those in the city.
  5. Better vision. In children, research found that outdoor activity may reduce the risk of developing nearsightedness.
  6. Improved concentration. In one study, researchers discovered that the participants who took a walk in nature vs. those who took a walk in the city or those that just relaxed, the nature walkers scored the best on a proofreading task.
  7. Sharper thinking and creativity. College students who took a walk in nature were much more accurate repeating a sequence of numbers back to the researchers after their walk.
  8. Possible anti-cancer effects. Early studies have suggested that spending time in forests may encourage the production of anti-cancer proteins.
  9. Immune system boost. The cellular activity that is connected with a forest’s possible anti-cancer effects is also an indication of a general boost to the immune system, which we need to fight off less serious illnesses like colds and flu.
  10. Improved mental health. When you spend time outdoors and combine it with exercise, studies show that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can be reduced. Water made the benefits even better.
  11. Reduced risk of early death. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between a person’s access to nature and living longer, healthier lives.

Let’s get off the couch, get outside and reap all the wonderful benefits of the great outdoors!