If you see a group of LEADPrep students on one of their weekly Friday experiential learning outings, don’t be surprised to see them looking up. They are birdwatching for mental health and environmental awareness.
Birding is becoming a more and more popular past time, and with a younger and younger crowd. But it’s more than just watching for a hawk or a blue jay.
At LEADPrep, we know that time in nature, green time, is helpful to lessen the challenges of ADHD. Also, it is valuable for everyone – student, teacher, or parent – to spend more time in nature. A study from the University of Exeter in England found that people living in neighborhoods with more birds and tree cover are less likely to experience depression, anxiety, and stress. Watching birds is good for your mental health.
There are more than 900 species of birds in the U.S. and Canada, and 45 million Americans say they regularly observe birds, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
There are hundreds of studies that show the health benefits of sustained exposure to nature. “Within minutes of being in a natural setting things like cortisol, a stress hormone, improve,” according to Nooshin Razani, a pediatrician and director of the Center for Nature and Health at UCSF’s Children’s Hospital. “Within 15 minutes, the ability to solve puzzles and cognitive benefits are seen. Even attention seems to get better. At around that time, blood pressure improves and so does pulse,” Razani said. In fact, a lifetime of regular exposure to nature is associated with improvements in cardiovascular disease and longevity.
There are also health benefits of birdwatching in a group, since multiple studies show that social connections and friendships are key to a long, healthy life. Sharing a hobby you’re passionate about can connect you to others.
But listening to and watching birds is just the tip of the iceberg!
As one develops an interest in birdwatching and in being in nature, one becomes more interested in and concerned about the environment. “Caring about the birds, you naturally start to think … ‘Well, do they have things to eat? Do they have a place to go?’ And then that takes your thoughts to, ‘What kind of parks do I have in the city?’ or ‘Are we preserving their natural habitat where they go to breed?’ ” says Brie Stotler, a 39-year-old physician. Rather than reading dry facts in a textbook, our Friday activities let us see, in person, the connection between the environment and plants and animals that inhabit that environment.
As a micro-school, LEADPrep can include trips to nature, volunteer work in nature, appreciation of nature, and just plain being in nature to our Friday activities – not just to see birds, but to add value to our lives, make new friends, learn to slow down, and grown our love of and concern for our natural environment. As Shakespeare says, “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin!”