Unstructured outdoor time is important for the overall well being of children. Evidence suggest that exposure to nature can improve attention and promote self-confidence, calmness, and other psychological aspects of health. The benefits from unstructured outdoor play produce positive developmental and health impacts for all Maryland children, including those from rural communities to those in urban and suburban neighborhoods.
To address this and other issues, the Maryland Partnership for Children in Nature was created in 2008 to ensure that all young people have the opportunity to learn about their environment, connect with their natural world and grow into responsible stewards. This “Park Equity Analysis” provides a quantitative statewide analysis to increase the access to public lands for children of underserved communities.
As defined in the movement launched by Richard Louv’s book, The Last Child In The Woods, “nature deficit disorder,” or the disassociation of children from nature, has been linked to a wide range of behavioral and health issues, including childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and depression. While many adults of generations past spent large portions of their childhood outdoors in spontaneous and unstructured play with other kids, today’s youths are more likely to stay inside watching television, playing video games, or simply may not have access nature due to large-scale land development.
Research shows there are significant positive impacts of spending time in nature on a child’s physical, cognitive, and social maturation. Play in nature, particularly during the critical period of middle childhood, appears to be an important time for developing the capacities for creativity, problem-solving, and emotional and intellectual growth.
In a 2006 report, the Trust for Public Land documented that urban parks can be beneficial to the communities and citizens in many ways:
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