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    The Mental Benefits of Fractal Patterning for Children by Know Yourself Co-Founder Nancy Howes

    The Mental Benefits of Fractal Patterning for Children by Know Yourself Co-Founder Nancy Howes

    Note from the Author

    Nature's Playground: Fractal Patterns and the Power of Outdoor Exploration for Kids

    In my almost 15 years of researching the ways that our bodies effortlessly assist our minds in areas of wellness, balance and joy, one of my favorite scientific discoveries has been the power of fractal patterning in nature on our well being and balance. In general being outside is also usually physically beneficial as well because hiking or running around is easily included. But if you wanted to sit outside and not move, just take in the sights and sounds, you would benefit greatly from this passive endeavor.

    I hope you enjoy as we delve into the world of fractal patterning and its connection to the great outdoors, advocating for the importance of allowing our children to immerse themselves in the natural wonders that surround us. The fascinating aspect of fractals lies not just in their visual appeal but also in their potential to positively influence our minds, especially the developing minds of children. As parents, understanding the mental benefits that arise from exposure to fractal patterns can illuminate the path to fostering creativity, problem-solving skills, bolstering focus, and emotional well-being in our little ones.

    Brief Overview of Fractal Patterning

    Derived from the Latin word "fractus," meaning broken or fragmented, fractal patterning is a fascinating concept rooted in mathematics and observed abundantly in nature. At its core, fractals are complex geometric patterns that repeat at different scales, creating intricate and self-similar structures. This means that as you zoom in or out on a fractal, you'll notice similar shapes or patterns repeating themselves. 

    Imagine a tree branch where each smaller branch resembles the larger branch it stems from, or a coastline where the intricacies of smaller bays and inlets mirror the larger curves and bends of the coastline itself. This self-similarity is a hallmark of fractal geometry.

    Nature is a masterful artist when it comes to displaying fractal patterns. From the branching structures of trees and veins in leaves to the intricate designs of snowflakes and the meandering paths of rivers, fractals are ubiquitous in the natural world. Take, for instance, the stunning beauty of a fern leaf, where each individual leaflet resembles a smaller version of the entire leaf. Or consider the majestic sprawl of mountain ranges, where the jagged peaks and valleys echo the overall shape of the range itself. Even the intricate patterns of clouds in the sky and the branching network of lightning bolts during a storm exhibit fractal characteristics. These examples highlight nature's innate ability to produce mesmerizing and mathematically intriguing fractal patterns, captivating both scientists and artists alike.

    Connecting with Nature's Classroom

    Children are innately curious beings, and the great outdoors serves as a captivating classroom where lessons extend beyond textbooks. The sights, sounds, and textures of nature stimulate their senses, providing a holistic learning experience. Studies consistently show that exposure to natural environments enhances cognitive function, promoting better concentration, improved problem-solving skills, and heightened creativity in children. The importance of outdoor play for children's mental well-being can not be overstated.

    Outdoor play also fosters a deeper understanding of the world around them, instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity. As children explore the diverse ecosystems, they not only develop a connection with nature but also learn valuable life lessons about respect, responsibility, and environmental stewardship.

    The Therapeutic Power of Nature

    Beyond the realm of education, the great outdoors offers therapeutic benefits crucial for children's emotional well-being. Nature has a calming effect on the mind, reducing stress and anxiety levels. Green spaces act as natural stress-relievers, providing a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

    Moreover, exposure to natural light and fresh air contributes to better mood regulation and improved sleep patterns in children. As parents, understanding the therapeutic power of nature allows us to create an environment where our children can thrive emotionally and mentally.

    There is a scientific reason that humans feel better walking through the woods than strolling down a city street, according to a new publication from UO physicist Richard Taylor and an interdisciplinary team of collaborators.

    The group examined the question: “What happens in your brain when you walk down the street?” and they concluded that urban environments are not pleasing to the human brain. The reason is the lack of fractals in modern architecture and spaces. Because of this prevalence of natural fractals, the human brain has evolved to respond favorably to fractals, and to do so in the blink of an eye. The human brain only needs 50 milliseconds to detect the presence of fractals.

    “As soon as we look at nature, it triggers a cascade of automatic responses,” Taylor explained. “Even before we’ve noticed what we’re looking at, we’re responding to it.”

    And the response is a positive one. Humans experience less stress and better well-being when looking at nature, and this is driven by fractals. Taylor’s research has found that fractals can reduce stress and mental fatigue for the observer by as much as 60 percent. 

    Taylor also points to research that showed hospitalized patients could heal faster when they had access to a window because looking outside at all of the natural fractals helped patients relax their bodies and heal faster.

    Next Steps: Unlocking nature's math and introducing fractal patterns and the adventure of outdoor play for kids

    Incorporating outdoor play and exploring fractal patterning into your child's daily routine can be both enriching and enjoyable. First steps start by simply encouraging your child to spend time outdoors, whether it's in your backyard, a local park, or a nature reserve. Depending on the age of your children, it may take some adjustment in your daily schedule to get your kids to a park or other natural environments. 

    When out in nature, kids can either just walk or run or create an occasional more curated experience and encourage them to observe their surroundings closely, pointing out the intricate patterns found in leaves, branches, or even the cracks in the sidewalk. Take walks together and discuss the fractal-like structures in the world around them, fostering a sense of curiosity and wonder. Engage in activities that naturally lend themselves to fractal exploration, such as collecting leaves or rocks with intricate patterns, or drawing inspiration from the shapes and forms found in nature to create artwork. By integrating outdoor play with an awareness of fractal patterning, you not only provide your child with the opportunity to connect with nature but also stimulate their creativity, critical thinking, and appreciation for the beauty of the world around them. Mysterious Patterns: Finding Fractals In Nature by Sarah C. Campbell is a great resource to utilize when exploring fractals in the outdoors with your child.

    If you’re interested in exploring fractal patterns further, we have several recommendations for games, coloring, and projects below! 


    1. Fractiles - 7 by Fractiles
    2. Mosaic Mysteries Pattern Puzzle by Discovery Toys

    Coloring Books

    1. Patterns of the Universe: A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty by Alex Bellos and Edmund Harriss
    2. Fractal Backgrounds Colorbook For Adults Volume 2: Floral and Bouquets and  Fractal Backgrounds Colorbook For Adults Volume 4: Seashells and Corals by RJ Gerb


    1. Fractal Patterning Cut Out Activity - Click HERE to Download
    2. Jackson Pollock Inspired Fractal Art Activity - Click HERE to Download

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