Go beyond green spaces: The benefits of “Blue Spaces” on Kids

This post was written by Sara McCarty, founder of Run Wild My Child, in partnership with Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the benefits of “green spaces” and their positive effect on children’s physical and mental health. You’ve probably seen your own kids benefit from playing in green spaces, such as parks and forests. They can calm a child’s mind, help them focus, and reduce anxiety. But, just as beneficial are the lesser talked about “blue spaces.”

Blue space, which encompasses the sea and coastline, rivers, lakes, canals, and waterfalls, has been used therapeutically for years. Recent studies show how beneficial and important spending time in these spaces can be for kids. Blue space can make you and your child happier, less stressed, more sociable, and environmentally aware.

If you need an excuse to hit the beach this year, we’ve got you covered! Do it for the future mental health of your kids. (Yes, we know…it’s a really good excuse!)

Two kids explore coastal Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida with nets looking for marine life in the sea grass.

Did you know that spending time near water positively changes your brain? According to research, just being near a body of water can have numerous benefits on our health and well-being, including reduced depression, increased levels of creativity, and the ability to destress naturally.

If you’ve spent any time at or near the ocean, you can probably attest to the calm feeling you get when listening to the sound of the crashing waves and feeling the sand between your toes. Magical things happen in blue spaces for children, too. I’ve noticed how spending time on and near water makes my kids happier, calmer, more curious, and better connected to our surroundings.

But don’t just take my word for it! A new study[1] reveals that recreational exposure to blue space as a child can have a major impact on a person’s adult mental health and can encourage them to maintain a healthy relationship with nature into adulthood. In the study, respondents shared their experiences with blue space during childhood, including how frequently they visited it and how comfortable their parents were allowing them to be in and near water. In a nutshell: more blue space exposure as a child results in better adult mental health and a greater propensity to spend time in nature as an adult.

Spending time recreating in blue spaces can also help with your child’s social skills and behavior. Another study found that higher beach attendance each year during childhood was associated with decreased total difficulties and peer relationship problems and increased pro-social behavior.

Two kids play in the calm waters of Destin-Fort Walton Beach, Florida with their parents nearby on a boat.

So, why are blue spaces so good for our kids’ health, well-being, and happiness? There are a few theories. Researchers say that the soft visual stimuli of water holds our attention without conscious effort, offering recovery from cognitive fatigue. This idea, called Attention Restoration Theory, basically says the calming effects of nature give our brains a break and allow them a chance to focus.

Another fascinating explanation of why blue spaces are such mood boosters is the presence of negative ions. These are molecules floating in the air or atmosphere that have been charged with electricity. In nature, you can find them wherever water collides with itself, like a waterfall or the ocean shore. Studies have found evidence that exposure to negative ions could help regulate sleep patterns and mood, reduce stress, boost immune system function, and increase metabolism.

I think these findings are incredibly interesting and helpful for parents to know as they decide how and where to spend time with their children. By prioritizing spending recreational time in blue spaces, we might be able to help our children live healthy and happier lives.

So, with all these incredible benefits of spending recreational time on and near the water, maybe it’s time to plan that beach trip after all! I know a great place…

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-021-87675-0

Sara McCarty is the founder of Run Wild My Child, an online resource all about getting kids (and their parents) off screens and outside adventuring together. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, and is determined to raise her three city kids to be as wild and feral as possible. You can usually find her family exploring a creek, fly fishing, hiking, duck hunting, camping, canoeing, biking, or geocaching. She loves to travel and showcase unique destinations with outdoor family-friendly activities. She’s passionate about reading, photography, oysters, plants, coffee, cooking, and key lime pie.

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