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Are Students Getting Outside Enough?

In a Wall Street Journal article, science writer Jonah Lehrer points to a growing body of research showing that spending time outdoors can provide significant cognitive benefits. A forthcoming study from the University of Kansas, he reports, finds that Outward Bound participants on an extended hike scored 50 percent higher on a creativity test than those not yet on the trail. Similarly, a 2009 study found that just taking a walk in an arboretum significantly boosted college students' performance on tests of attention and short-term memory. And a number of studies have shown that students with attention-deficit disorder exhibit improved behavior and focus when surrounded by nature.

"Although many of us find the outdoors alienating and uncomfortable—the bugs, the bigger critters, the lack of climate control—the brain reacts to natural settings by, essentially, sighing in relief," Lehrer writes.

So it's all the more troubling that children today seem to be spending more and more time cooped up indoors. Lehrer points to data showing that the percentage of young children partaking of regular outdoor recreation decreased by some 15 percentage points between 2006 and 2010. What's behind this recent slide? Lehrer doesn't analyze all the potential factors, but he does point to a recent study finding that, on average, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than four hours a day interacting with technology of one form or another.

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