A mix between video games and nature can enhance brain stimulation for kids during the pandemic.
Photo credit: Pexel
I would like to thank Chieko Quigley for helping me with video game suggestions. Her contribution to this article was invaluable!
During the pandemic, we can’t resist worrying about whether our kids get enough brain stimulation. Social gatherings are forbidden, our interactions are limited by social distancing and we are dealing with a curfew that prevent sleepovers. People feel bored, lonely and it’s easy to get on a slippery slope towards depression. Kids don’t have the full social exposure that is so crucial to develop their emotional intelligence and soft skills like communication.
Although our lives have slowed down, kids’ brain development doesn’t stop, and it’s important to make sure they get enough stimulation during this downtime. When we’re looking for brain stimulation, we also want to be mindful and considerate of the restrictions due to the virus. Here are two simple yet effective activities to promote brain health while waiting to get our lives back: taking hikes in nature and playing video games.
1. Get outside!
A plethora of scientific articles have proven the benefits of being around nature. Taking long walks outside positively impacts our health. Scientists found that people who practiced “forest bathing” were healthier than people who remained in the city. Forest bathing is self-explanatory, it’s literally bathing in nature, which lowers the concentrations of cortisol (the stress hormone), lowers pulse rate and blood pressure, and increases parasympathetic activity. Forest bathing is also used as preventive medicine in Japan. It is no surprise that the stereotype for city people is to be stressed out whereas countryside folks live a more peaceful life.
When we are in nature, our senses are awakened, which is food for the brain. External stimulation surrounds us. We feel the fresh air, the scents from the plants, we can feel the warm sun, and we can enjoy the view. Developing our senses is part of learning what we like and don’t like.
The other important benefit for kids to be in nature is they learn admiration because we sometimes feel tiny in front of mountains and hills. I’ve been a serial hiker for many years and still have not gotten tired of it. What I enjoy the most is the feeling of humility in front of this vast and complicated world that was there before us and will remain long after we’re gone. You don’t need to be religious or spiritual, there’s just a feeling of belonging to a greater thing. Also, practicing humility make us be nicer and more generous people.
Nature is also good for your imagination and creativity. A 2012 study by Atchley and Strayer shows that being in nature increases creative reasoning. Their hypothesis is that spending too much time with media and technology has impacted our cognition unlike participating in outdoors activities. Staying outside can restore the prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes and help kids refocus on their inner artist. Their results confirmed the hypothesis, although other factors are involved in nature immersion.
Last but not least, since we aren’t allowed to meet other people inside, let’s get our social fix outside, preferably in nature. National parks in Canada have done a great job at creating an online reservation system to limit the number of people on trails. It would be an awesome idea to invite your kids’ friends along with your family’s hike and have the mountains as their playground.
Check out their link:
2. Now, let’s talk video games!
In the previous part of the article, we just promoted immersing ourselves in nature, far from technology, it might seem contradictory to promote playing video game indoors.
A lot of parents currently struggle with their kids spending too much time in front of their screens. My argument is that it’s not all that bad if kids can moderate their time wisely. Video games come with baggage and negative stigma involving violence, sometimes bringing up racial stereotypes and objectifying women but here are their some of their benefits:
Some video games are social. Playing online can favor social time, collaboration and team spirit. You can also play with multiple players and have fun between siblings.
We often forget how hard it is for kids to fit in and feel validated by peers. Kids are vulnerable because they haven’t forged their identity yet, they’re constantly in self-discovery mode. Playing video games can increase their self-esteem and overall mood. It’s not a solution per say but if the kid is winning a game, it is a small boost to feel better about a situation. Moreover, it could be a great lesson on perseverance and not giving up too soon.
The parents can participate in choosing video games that are beneficial to the kids’ brain development when they play with cognitive and memory games. The game “Portal” is all about solving puzzles and enigma. Try it out and it will be a fun way to develop your kids’ abstract skills.
Some games are didactic and can teach a lot of history and scientific facts in a playful manner. It could be a great opportunity to explore this new method of learning and educate kids about compassion, justice and social matters.
You’ll sweat interactively!
I have to admit that my workout routine fell off schedule when gyms closed down. I thought I could keep myself in shape by reproducing work out routines from YouTube videos, but it wasn’t as fun because it wasn’t interactive as video games.
Despite the image we have of a hypnotized kid who won’t move from their gaming chair, there are some games that make you sweat! Think about “Just Dance,” you’ll learn fun choreographies on catchy pop songs and improve coordination. It’s perfect for dancers when dance studios are closed.
Nintendo was inspired by Pilates and came up with the “Ring Fit.” You get a ring (about the size of a barrel ring) and a leg band. The goal is to work out your arms, run in place and get your cardio moving while exploring new worlds and even meeting a dragon! If you incorporate this exercise into a daily routine, you’ll be likely to lose weight, feel better and be entertained.
Video games are a safe alternative to getting the body and brain moving if we are limited by the pandemic. For those who can’t travel far or don’t have access to a car, you could stay indoors and be engaged.
3. Brain activity is dependent upon internal happiness
The more I wrote about nature and video games, the more I thought about our mental health and happiness. This pandemic is hard on all of us because we are not used to this level of loneliness, adapting to new technologies and fighting our social instincts. Although we want to keep our children engaged, I realized that this very engagement could distract us from the reality of our confinement, and we ultimately have to be okay with the current situation.
Meditation and mindfulness play a crucial role in controlling our thoughts and brain health. Whichever activities we choose to occupy our brain, let’s remind ourselves to be kind and patient. The pandemic will be over soon, and we’ll get back to our normal lives. But before this could happen, let’s learn as much as possible from being happy with oneself. We want the stimulation and the adrenaline, but it’s also healthy to take moments to ourselves and to take advantage of the silence and reflect on our purpose.
Teaching happiness to kids isn’t as instinctive as we think because the school system didn’t make room for self-development. As parents or educators, we can use this time at home to teach kids that happiness isn’t dependent upon external stimulations like video games or being in nature. Happiness is indeed within! We are happy because we choose to be happy. Kids who learn to control their emotions and not depend on someone else or external factors will live more satisfying lives.
In conclusion, my sympathy thoughts go towards kids who are stuck in a tiny place, even though they’re told to sit still for more than a year. Kids are energy balls, it’s difficult to comprehend that the pandemic has been affecting a big part of their short lifespan. In the meantime, we can focus on safe activities that promote brain health. Being nature can help tremendously lower stress level and reenergize our body. Video games can also push up to exercise, solve puzzles and learn historical facts. The balance between having external stimulations from inside and outside the house ultimately brings the question of where can we be satisfied. Our experiences of the world rely upon our internal happiness. Whichever way we choose to stay engaged, let’s also remind ourselves that we can choose our form of happiness and that it doesn’t have to depend upon external factors.