There is a growing body of scientific evidence that proves kids who spend time in the great outdoors doing the kinds of adventure activities you find on a National Parks trip perform better in school than those who don’t.
There are lots of reasons—and lots of studies that support that conclusion. A National Parks trip really can make your kids smarter. Check out the research and see what you think.
Kids who travel over summer break do better on tests of reading, math, and general knowledge.
A Clemson University study showed that kids who traveled over the summer outperformed their peers who stayed home. The researchers believe that travel contributes to meaningful learning, in which knowledge acquired during one experience can be applied to—and built upon—previous experiences, allowing children to develop their interests. Taking summer vacations also increases experiential learning, which refers to learning that takes place by actually doing something new.
A child who has a new experience on vacation can apply everything he or she learned doing it to all sorts of new tasks at school.
Being in nature “resets the brain” and resets learning processes that are short-circuited by stress.
David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, discovered something he calls the “three-day effect.”
Studying group of Outward Bound students after an adventure trip camping, hiking, and backpacking, he discovered they performed 50% better on creative thinking and problem-solving tests than students who had not had an outdoor nature adventure.
He learned that after about three days in the wilderness, the brain “resets” and produces a higher quality of cognitive thinking.
He measured the “three-day effect” using an EEG machine on a group of college students taking a three-day hike through the canyons of Utah and looked at their brainwaves and conceptual thinking. Strayer then compared these results with a control group of students who stayed in the lab a parking lot in order to pinpoint exactly what brain changes are responsible for the results.
Kids who play outdoors have better vision, cognition, and mental health.
A 2012 study on nearly 9,000 children by Pooja Tandon at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute showed that children who got unstructured play time outdoors did better on tests of vision, cognitive development, and basic mental health measures than those who didn’t.
How does that play out in real life?
Amelia Rosenman is a naturalist who works with school children, taking them for five-day outdoor adventure camps in the mountains of California to help them “detox” from the video screens and devices that dominate their lives. She says, “They experience real life in real time. They open their eyes to the new world. And we see an incredible transformation in them from Monday to Friday.”
Did you know that horseback riding is linked to improved thinking and memory?
Researchers at the University of Tokyo learned that the unique vibrations children experience while in the saddle stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which in turn leads to improved cognitive ability and memory.
The students were asked to answer basic learning tests and perform mathematical calculations. Those who had spent time in the saddle did better than those who didn’t.
Who knew that that a two-hour trail ride through the magnificent Grand Tetons or Yellowstone National Park could actually make your child more intelligent?
Kids who explore the great outdoors have lower levels of ADHD and sleep deprivation.
Sleep deprivation is one of the greatest contributors to poor academic performance among children. And as any parent of a child suffering with ADHD knows, it’s a condition that makes traditional classroom learning very challenging.
At a 2016 summit on America’s National Parks, Kevin Coyle, the National Wildlife Federation’s VP of Education, presented information showing that kids who regularly explored the outdoors displayed less evidence of sleep deprivation and had a lower incidence of attention deficit disorders.
Kids who camp sleep better than those who don’t.
Research at the University of Colorado showed that camping resets the body’s natural clock and increases levels of melatonin, the natural hormone that tells your body that it’s time to sleep and restores normal body rhythms.
During the study, people were sent on a week-long camping trip in Colorado and their sleep patterns and melatonin levels were measured and compared to individuals who hadn’t camped in natural light.
Those who didn’t camp had delayed internal body clocks by as much as two hours compared to the camping group.
And it’s a well-known fact that kids who don’t sleep well have poor concentration and attention spans—and lack of sleep definitely impacts mood and emotional well-being. So why not spend a week or two camping in Colorado this summer and reset your child’s body clock just in time for school? [Just don’t close the window shades in the RV 😉 ]
Family time in “enriched environments” like National Parks releases brain chemicals that help children learn.
When you spend time as a family in a stimulating outdoor environment, you are actually activating systems in your child’s limbic area of the brain that release neurochemicals necessary for “playing with ideas.” These systems, the PLAY and SEEKING systems, were studied by renowned neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp of Washington State University, who calls them “nature’s gift to us” because they are responsible for our feelings of well-being and creative learning.
Those who can creatively problem solve and “play with ideas” share skill sets with successful entrepreneurs—what great skills to encourage in your children!
Exploring new natural environments like caves and forests stimulates the SEEKING system of the brain.
Dr. Panksepp describes the SEEKING system as “one of the main brain systems that generate and sustain curiosity, even for intellectual pursuits. This system is obviously quite efficient at facilitating learning, especially mastering information.”
In his studies, he discovered that children who were given the opportunity to explore new physical environments activated their SEEKING system, causing them to be more naturally curious and interested in learning new things.
A trip to Sequoia and King’s Canyon hits all the natural environments you need to really jumpstart your child’s SEEKING system—and it’s breathtakingly beautiful, to boot!
Ready to Go?
So now you know that National Parks really can make your kids smarter—and ready to succeed in school this fall.
Want to know more about planning a National Parks camping adventure? Sign up for our free email course today. And if you’re already thinking about an RV vacation, contact us today and let’s get the wheels rolling!