by Ann Woods, Roughing It Day Camp

Every parent wishes for their child to succeed in school and this “success” for many families is heavily influenced by academics first. Doing well in school, getting good grades, enrolling in advanced courses, continually acquiring more knowledge and being “smart” is often top priority for parents and therefore the focus for their children. What if we told you that giving your children a break from academics and allowing them time outdoors would actually make them smarter? “A growing body of research suggests that outdoor play offers such a positive bump in brain power, it should perhaps be a priority.”

Physical Health Improves Mental Health and “Working Memory”

Children typically get most of their physical activity through playing outdoors. We know physical activity improves physical health but we are also learning more about how physical activity improves mental health as well. Researchers have shared a number of studies showing physical activity results in improved mood, increased self esteem, improved vision and motor development, and many other benefits. Physical activity also has a connection to improved sleep and a positive impact on “working memory and increase cognitive processing and performace.” The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of recess and other physical activity for kids: “Recess serves as a necessary break from the rigors of concentrated, academic challenges in the classroom… safe and well-supervised recess offers cognitive, social, emotional, and physical benefits.” The Academy points out that exercise actually aids learning and academic success. Daily periods of outdoor play and exercise enables kids to improve their concentration in the classroom and be more productive.

Active Play Improves Critical Thinking

Active play and unstructured physical activity that takes place in nature gives children more choices for creative play and problem solving. Whether playing alone or with other children, outdoor play also introduces opportunities to problem solve, resolve conflicts and enhance critical thinking. Dr. Barrett Fromme, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Chicago, states: “The business world repeatedly lauds the corporate culture of companies like Google who offer opportunities for play and community collaboration, and suggests that such culture is the reason for the success and happiness of its employees. Yet, we do not encourage the same culture in our children who are at a far more critical developmental period.” Playing outdoor games and team games has obvious social benefits.

Playing Outdoors Increases Attention Span

Experts encourage playing outdoors to improve focus and attention in children noting one school of thought that highlights this affect, “the attention restoration theory: If you want to gain strength by lifting weights, you need to take a break between sessions for your muscles to recover; nature provides a similar break in attention for your brain.” Parents and experts alike often claim that children behave and perform better after exercise and we do see research to support this observation.

In this technologically inclined generation, emphasis and interest in nature has greatly diminished from times past. Laurel Latham, a local author and writer at may have said it best when she said “Today’s kids are much more at ease in front of an iPad than in front of a pile of sticks and we know that connecting to nature is important – it’s been studied enough… Playing outside is good for our kids’ health but it’s also good for our kids’ brains.”

Traditional outdoor summer camps can be the ideal opportunity for children to unplug from technology, take a step away from school academics and capitalize on the benefits nature and active unstructured play can have on their brains and long term education and future success.


Ann Woods, Owner and Director of Roughing It Day Camp since 1972. Ann founded Roughing It in 1972 with her husband, Hobie and together they serve as Camp Directors. Roughing It celebrates its 44th year this summer and offers camp programs for children from 4-16 years old. Roughing It is an all outdoor tranditional Summer Day Camp located at the Lafayette Reservoir. Each summer continues a proud tradition of helping children grow in wonderful ways. Roughing It offers free transportation to and from camp each day with 36 bus stops across the Tri Valley, Contra Costa, East Bay and San Francisco communities. For more information go to