With March 2nd’s World Teen Mental Wellness Day on my mind, I started thinking about how often teenagers and pre-teens are exposed to nature, play and purposeful outdoor movement. Not very often would be my guess, given the deteriorating conditions with teenagers in this country. Many of our children in those critical years are active in structured play activities like sports, music, school clubs. But, how many of them are outside just playing or exploring nature? Some of you might think your students or children have no interest but I have evidence to the contrary. I teach junior high and high school kids and they LOVE being outside with me building the gardens and exploring. In fact, their entire demeanor changes the minute they step outside.
I experimented with this today with my own daughter. She has recently started the homeschooling journey with us and was feeling a little bit blue sitting at the table doing math. She took multiple breaks, ate a snack and tried listening to music. No change in mood. So we had planned for her to do her science lesson outside in the garden with me. After 45 minutes inside, within 5 minutes of being outside, she said she likes homeschooling better and was back to feeling great. She came inside, made her own lunch and finished her math worksheet. While we were outside, she completed not only science but math as well with our activity. We did all of this in the rain...yes in the cold March Georgia rain.
My experiment reinforced for me why we have a growing mental health crisis in our country and others. Our lives have become so routine and so structured, that our natural inclination for creativity, curiosity and exploration are suppressed under the weight of 'recreational activities'. This is one of the major missions behind the work we do at Roots & STEMs, getting children of all ages Back to Earth! The statistics are staggering. Suicide rates in teenagers are the highest they’ve been since they began collecting information in the 60's. We know based on science and medical research that being outside improves mental health and overall physical health. In the spirit of this year’s World Teen Mental Wellness Day, let’s get our teenagers outside to play and connect. Put down the phones. Put down the remotes. Take the first step to getting back to nature and take our life, our relationships, and our fun outside.