Outdoor activities support children’s emotional health, especially during Covid-19 – The Burlington Record

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a change for families and caregivers that has left many not only the primary caregiver, but also the role of full (or near) educator, athletic director and facilitator.

Typically, before Covid, children spent much of their time in school with professional educators, behavioral aids, and other special needs supports. Although our education system has adapted to provide a classroom-like environment where children can learn and thrive, virtual schooling and partial in-person schooling cannot offer the same levels of activity. outdoor physics to which the students were accustomed.

Many families experience historic levels of stress, including financial, housing, food and job insecurity. According to December 14, 2020, the Annie E. Kasey Kids, Families and Covid-19 Foundation reports that 21% of those surveyed who had children at home said they had felt down, depressed or hopeless in the previous week. 14% of adults with children said their household sometimes or always did not have enough to eat in the past week. And 18% said they had little or no confidence that they would be able to pay their next rent or mortgage payment on time.

Despite the additional stressors caused by this pandemic, there are ways in which children can be supported and guided to learn coping behaviors that have long-term positive effects on their social and emotional well-being. In addition to all the physical benefits, exercise increases the production of endorphin (the feel-good hormone), and the more movement and activity children have, the more their brains are stimulated, thus developing better attention. during all those long days of virtual school. In this way, exercise can help us overcome life stressors that we all experience (like a pandemic).

Studies such as The Cognitive Benefits of Exercise for Children by Gwen Dewar, PhD, who looked directly at the brain during and after physical activity, show that children in better physical condition have larger hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with learning and memory and are better at certain types of tasks than less active children. These changes in the brain also apply to adults: Adults who engage in regular physical activity are more successful at memory and reasoning tasks, and it is a recommended intervention to help prevent decline in blood pressure. memory and cognitive functions with age. Exercise can help children (and adults!) Feel less stressed, more open, focused, motivated to learn, and better able to retain and use the information we have learned. Combine exercise with time spent in nature and we take a giant leap towards becoming healthier, happier human beings able to withstand the inevitable storms that life will sometimes bring.

Getting outside and doing something active can benefit the whole family, especially when incorporated as a regular activity. Clinician Tina Simms, AMFT offers a way to engage children. “When you are out for a walk in nature, in your community, or even just at home, you can try to have fun with a mindfulness practice in a ‘spy’ type game. Take turns “spying on” something with one of your senses (sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste), tell the other person which sense you are using (for example, “I hear something rustling. Or “I smell something hot”), then ask the other person to try to guess what you are going through. It is an effective way to make exercise fun, play together, practice mindfulness to reduce stress, and can inspire a lot of curiosity and conversation about the world around us. TIP: If you want to use your sense of taste for the game, it’s best to have some snacks on hand to make the game easier to experience. “

Since 2006, Redwood Community Services has offered an outdoor therapy program, The Interpersonal Skills Training Center (ISTC) at Arrowhead Ranch. This program takes place in a wild environment, where children can develop a variety of skills to improve their general functioning, in addition to emphasizing and engaging in physical activity, while enjoying all the incredible benefits of nature. Many children in the community accessed this service before the Covid-19 pandemic; however, group services have been drastically reduced over the past year in accordance with public health orders.

“We are seeing that the children in our program are making remarkable progress not only in their treatment, but also in their overall physiological and mental well-being. The ISTC program often creates a change in behavior which also bodes a lifelong appreciation and worth of nature and being active, as they experience the satisfaction and contentment it brings to them, ”explains the director of rehabilitation services Kinsey Metts.

The ISTC program has taken over group rehabilitation services on a smaller scale from typical clients, from about 20 clients per day to about four to five clients per day. Kinsey is happy to welcome children back to the program: “Adjustments have been made to ensure that we take action not only to minimize our numbers, but also to limit potential exposure through sanitation procedures. , wearing a mask and maximizing the time spent outdoors as a whole. . Our clients need this opportunity more than ever to overcome the additional challenges the pandemic has created and begin the journey to resocialization and healing. “

Whether through a formal program, at home, or virtual supports, children and families can incorporate outdoor play into their daily routines, giving children a sense of normalcy and a positive outlet to express. their feelings and that ever-present energy. “It is crucial now, more than ever, to ensure that we are helping our children to be physically active to some extent. It’s best to do it outdoors or find some other way to spend even a little time in nature each day, ”Kinsey shares.

Incorporated in 1995, Redwood Community Services provides services to children, youth, families and adults in Mendocino, Lake and Humboldt counties. Beginning with the implementation of a foster family agency in 1995 providing foster homes for children and youth in Mendocino County, Redwood Community Services implemented a continuum of programs including behavioral health, crisis services, youth and adult residences, substance use disorder programs and youth resources. centers. For more information on the services provided by Redwood Community Services, call 707-467-2000 or visit their website at www.redwoodcommunityservices.org.