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Nature Kids

The benefits of being outdoors for special needs children

May 2014

The sun is shining. Winter coats are hiding. Has spring ever felt sooo good? You know it's warm outside. Do your children know? They should because spending time in nature is great idea for all kids, perhaps even more so for kids with Special Needs.

"Our kids are so scheduled. There's so much going on in their lives and it's really important for kids to just be in nature and have free play and learn to build forts out of sticks. Those things are being lost in our society," said Shay Dawson, director of Bradford Woods in Martinsville.

About 7,000 kids of all abilities come through Dawson's park each year and he sees time and again the benefit nature brings to them. "It's just a really therapeutic and helpful environment to be in," he said, noting that several studies show that ADHD symptoms in particular can improve when kids play in deep green or unstructured outdoor spaces.

Bradford Woods offers about 15 medically specific camps during the summer and hosts about 5,000 elementary children during spring and fall school retreats. After the school retreats, Dawson says teachers are consistently impressed with the gains children make during the trip. "They often say the kids that don't do well in school, who may be shy or have some behavioral issue tend to thrive out there. We see that response over and over," he said.

Danesa Stolz, chief naturalist for Fishers Parks and Recreation, agrees. It has been her experience that spontaneous or unstructured outside play uses kids' imaginations and stimulates learning. This, she says, can lead to greater creativity and foster language and collaboration skills, not to mention positively affect balance, coordination and agility.

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Tags: In This Issue, Special Needs

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