If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know we’ve touched on ADHD before. It’s important, of course, as a matter of public health and wellness. But it’s also a design concern of growing interest. More and more landscape architects, playground designers, and manufacturers are recognizing their role in creating environments that benefit those with attention disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 11% of American children between the ages of 4 and 17 have ADHD: an increase of nearly 42% in only 8 years. There are countless pharmaceuticals, as well as occupational therapies, available for children with ADHD, but many benefit most from simple life changes, such as healthier eating, more exercise, or the addition of stimulating and calming outdoor activities to their daily schedules.
Spending time outdoors can be especially beneficial for children with ADHD, providing them access to unrestricted environments in which they can express their energy. It is far easier for impulsive and hyperactive children to release their tension by running, jumping, swinging, playing sports outside than by shuffling their feet or biting their fingernails while in the confines of a home or classroom.
And just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean children need to be holed up inside all day. Dressing in layers and minimizing skin exposure can keep children warm and dry. A quick hot cocoa break can also help kids warm up. And seasonal changes in the natural environment have a particular benefit for children with ADHD, as the movement from one season to the next produces a calming effect.
Independent and nature-based activities
Structured, organized activities— art classes, soccer, tag, basketball, volleyball, even yoga—can be very helpful for children with ADHD; these activities have simple instructions, clear rules, and offer social reinforcement for desirable behavior. Many children with ADHD find the healthy competition of team sports highly stimulating and engaging.
But for others, particularly those with significant fine-motor and social limitations, team sports can feel overwhelming. For these children, individual activities, such as biking, swimming, or climbing on playground equipment, is often a better option. Unstructured free play is of equal importance as it builds confidence and stimulates independent thinking.
At Goric, we have several structures that lend themselves to free, independent outdoor play. Popular sound and sensory pieces, such as the Sound Column, Babel Drum, Dance Chimes, Distortion Mirror, and Rainmaker provide the opportunity for children to focus their attention on optical effects, body movement, and melody-making. These activities help children develop their sensory processing and executive functioning systems.
Another common characteristic of children with ADHD is a heightened curiosity and love of nature. Various gardening activities, from planting a vegetable bed to setting up a compost bin to making a bird feeder, can cultivate these innate interests. Goric’s hand-operated Farm Pump, Sand Silo, and water play systems are, likewise, an excellent way to introduce children to the tactile and imaginative possibilities of natural elements.
Chores and yard work
As a calming measure for children with ADHD, outdoor chores such as raking up leaves, painting a fence, or hauling rubble away in a wheelbarrow are all very effective. This is because they stimulate resistance, like the therapeutic activities occupational therapists employ. Even seemingly simple activities, such as reading, can be a lot less overwhelming for children with ADHD when done outdoors as opposed to within four walls.
In addition to all the reasons listed above, engaging in outdoor activities provides children with a healthy dose of Vitamin D which is essential for bone health and boosts feelings of happiness and well-being. It also provides a welcome reprieve from still, indoor air, where germs like to congregate. Even parents and caretakers can benefit tremendously from spending time outside with their beloved children.