“Let them once get in touch with nature and a habit is formed which will be a source of delight and habit through life.”
— Charlotte Mason
Prior to staying home with our daughter, I owned a company that worked with children with disabilities. Many of these students struggled with attention needs. Some of these attention needs were neurological and often the children were diagnosed with attention deficit disorder or a similar diagnosis. Other times the attention needs were simply a matter of explicit teaching of executive functioning skills, the child’s diet and supplement routine and… their time outside.
I will always remember the day when a beautifully polished mom of three elementary aged children stopped me as I hopping in my car after a long day of academic coaching. I was on the way to a meeting with a psychologist to discuss one of our shared clients whom was recently diagnosed with autism. My stomach was growling and my mind was running. But this mom had a certain level of concern in her voice and said something that stopped me in my tracks.
“Another mom told me that you prescribed their child to outdoor time for their ADHD child. Is that true?”
I remember throwing my heavy bag packed with books, my computer and play-based games in my car, taking a deep breath and taking a big sigh of relief. This is something worth discussing.
“Yes, I may be guilty of that,” I said half laughing, half hoping this conversation was going to be a humorous as I thought it was in my mind.
She readjusted her pearl necklace, nervously shuffled through the gravel parking lot with her heels and said, “Well I just had lunch with her and, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… it is working”
“You sound surprised?”
“Well, let me just tell you that we have taken our child to three different psychologists, had him in tutoring for two years and we are still not seeing any changes. She told me to ask you to prescribe outdoor time to us too.”
At this point I couldn’t help but laugh. “Prescribe outdoor time” This is not a phrase that I had ever used but I loved it.
“Sure! Let’s meet for some coffee next week and I will write you up a prescription.”
And I did. I wrote up a behavior modification plan surrounded around executive functioning skills, with the main solution being more free time in nature.
No special educational therapy. No additional tutoring hours, even though I owned a thriving mobile tutoring company. I actually told her to reduce some tutoring hours instead.
I helped her look at their family schedule to find big chunks of time that could be free-play time outside. I looked at their rhythm and helped her think through how they could simplify so time in the backyard was part of their daily flow rather than a luxury on weekends.
I encouraged time to soak in some vitamin D, feel the earth under them and just be in nature.