Activities for ADHD Awareness Month: Outdoor Play

Helping Students with ADHD

While there is an increasing acceptance that ADHD is a genuine, brain-based neurocognitive disorder, there are still questions about the best forms of treatment and activities for ADHD. October is ADHD awareness month, and in addition to controversies about the use of medication, there are increasing concerns about the role and impact of digital media (such as video games, apps, and other screen-based technologies) on children and adults with ADHD. However, recent research describes one finding that should apply to all individuals affected by ADHD, and even those without:  we all need to spend more time outdoors.

The study, conducted with 400 children diagnosed with ADHD at the University of Illinois, suggested that “green settings were related to milder overall symptoms than either ‘built outdoors’ or ‘indoors’ settings.” The researchers also found that open fields and green spaces were related to reduced hyperactive symptoms in ADHD children. Unfortunately, getting children with ADHD outdoors may be more difficult than it was in the past, as other studies indicate that all children spend half the time outdoors that they did 20 years ago.

Why is this so? To begin with, our school systems provide less time for recess time than they did in the past, and minimize the importance of outdoor play relative to repetitive practice of academic skills. In addition, busy families in which both parents work and children attend after-school daycare result in less time to be outside playing in the neighborhood with friends. Concerns regarding safety and security outside of the home have also reduced the opportunities children have to play outdoors. Some parents also over-schedule their children, enrolling them in an overwhelming series of academic, musical, or rule-based activities that do not allow them to be outdoors just to play.

In addition, the allure of digital technologies can be stimulating for children with ADHD, but also potentially addictive, keeping kids indoors and glued to a screen. Data from the Kaiser Foundation indicate that children spend seven and a half hours a day with digital media, including playing video games, surfing the Internet, text-messaging their friends, or watching television. While the use of digital media provides many opportunities for children with ADHD to learn critical-thinking, executive-functioning, and 21st century skills, children with attention problems need to spend more time running around outdoors. Fortunately, it is possible to transform the digital-media interests of a child with ADHD into outdoor activities by choosing games and media involvement that can increase the motivation for outdoor play.

Activities for ADHD Awareness Month & Outdoor Play:

1.) Encourage children to play sports-based video games.  Games such as Fifa Soccer and NBA 2K12 can entice children to go outside and practice some “moves.” Data indicate that children who play sports games tend to spend more time playing sports those who do not.

2.) Explore Google Earth and then explore your world. Use Google Earth to find local hiking or biking trails, historical areas, or lakes and rivers to explore. Then go out for a hike, a bike ride, or canoe trip in one of these areas.

3.) Play active, competitive motion-based games. Play active games together, such as Kinect Sports Season Two: Tennis. Active games provide fun ways for indoor exercise, which can then motivate real world exercise. After spending some time with the game, go play outside, challenging your child to a race, setting up a game of HORSE, and even taking a trip to the batting cages.

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