This is needed most in age of technology. By Leandra Huffer “Around the U.S., and even right here in Arizona, people spend far less time in nature than even 25 or 50 years ago. Urbanization and technology has drastically changed people’s relationship with nature,” says Dr. Denise Mitten, Graduate Chair of Adventure Education at Prescott College. Dr. Mitten has spent many years studying the positive effects of nature on people’s overall well-being, and in turn, the declining rate in which we take advantage of the world around us.
Parents have become fearful about their children playing outdoors, and children who grow up in primarily built environments often fear nature, largely because it is unfamiliar.” Experiencing the outdoors is not just about getting active. Therefore the real benefits of nature come through what experts call ‘unstructured play’. This is unscheduled time, where a child is able to be outside, relying on her or his imagination for entertainment. Free play, as opposed to games or structured activities, is the most essential type.
Outdoor activity in the form of ‘unstructured play’ is not as common for today’s children. This is due to technology, safety concerns and busy schedules. The Children & Nature Network notes that just 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own, and the average American child spends just 28-49 minutes in unstructured outdoor play each week, less than a third of the recommended amount. Mitten doesn’t deny the realities facing our society. Which is why she says summer camp is great for kids to be in a safe environment and have concentrated, unstructured play at the same time.
Dr. Mitten has a personal affinity for Girl Scout camp, as it is where her personal and professional relationship with the wilderness began. Local Girl Scout Camp Director, Justina Burks, of Shadow Rim Ranch in Payson, agrees with Dr. Mitten’s notion, “The programs are themed and supervised. Campers have flexibility, can mold their activities, and have concentrated amounts of literal free play.” In referencing her latest book, Dr. Mitten notes “We now know this unstructured play triggers happy hormones and the relaxed alpha brainwaves. Which are linked to increased memory, creativity and the ability to learn.
This is known as the inoculation effect. Research shows that it is present after just one week of summer camp. And has cumulative effects over time, even if just once a year.” You can sign your daughter up for camp! Not a Girl Scout? Now a problem. Simply visit camplikeagirlscout.com to learn more about attending Girl Scout camp.