Does Nature Make You Smarter?

For a neuroscience lab, it sure is cold. Maybe 20℉ or so, judging by the sting on my exposed cheeks. Indeed, an observer would be hard-pressed to see any traditional research going on here. There’s not a single white coat, MRI, or PET scanner to be found. I don’t have a sensor stuck to my scalp. Instead, I’m snuggled in a sleeping bag, surrounded by sagebrush and willow deep within a red-rock maze of hulking sandstone cliffs. But science will be done. It’s my fourth morning in the wild, and I’m supposed to take a cognitive test that’s part of a groundbreaking research project. And I will, as soon as my fingers thaw enough to grip a pen.

The sunrise colors the Ancient Puebloan ruin to the east, and I hunker down in my bag, waiting for the rays to reach my tent. When they do, I unzip the door so I can see the warming sky and unfold the test. Behind me, assorted rustlings and yawns tell me that my five campmates are doing the same thing. The six of us represent the very first step in a cognitive pilot study aimed at exploring a question every reader of this magazine will find intriguing: Does backpacking make you smarter?

The researchers who designed this experiment hypothesize that exposure to nature causes significant, measurable changes to the brain. These changes let you think more clearly, focus more acutely, and perform to your maximum cognitive ability. In short: Wilderness makes you smarter. And the longer you’re out there (up to a point), the smarter you’ll get. Recent studies have already linked wilderness exposure with stress reduction and overall happiness. I can’t help but ponder the ramifications of all this as I consider the first question on my Remote Associates Test. This canyon in southern Utah may not look like an academic setting, but the neuroscientists behind this study could prove that trail time actually makes the brain perform better. Compelling evidence would make hiking a lock for the good-for-you activity hall of fame, to be sure, but that’s not all. Imagine a world in which backpacking becomes the science-recommended way to prepare for the SATs, chess tournaments, and all of life’s biggest mental challenges.

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Kite Fest, Sundays in April

The Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens will be celebrating National Kite Month every Sunday during April, from noon to 5 pm. Fly your own kite, buy and make a kite, learn about kites, and watch expert kite demonstrations.

Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens
8909 W. 179th Street, Overland Park KS

Kite-making is one elective in the Toys and Games badge, as well as a whole lot of fun!

Kansas City Passport to Adventure Kickoff, March 23

In 1994, a group of Kansas City area interpretive sites — historical museums, nature centers, and more — organized the first Kansas City Passport to Adventure. The idea was simple — encourage families to visit a variety of the sites throughout the summer, collecting stamps along the way and earning a prize for completing the program.

By 2013, the number of participating sites has grown to 28, with a wide variety of sites to suit every taste.

To kick off the 2013 Passport season, gather your family and visit Bass Pro Shop, Olathe. They’ll have live animals and a number of fun activities for the kids. Can’t make the kickoff? You can pick up your Passport at any one of the participating sites throughout the summer. A list of sites may be found at

Once you have completed the passport, turn it in to any participating site by October 31 to receive a special prize!

Saturday, March 23
12:00 – 4:00 p.m.

Bass Pro Shop
12051 Bass Pro Drive, Olathe KS

It’s hard to list the number of badges this might assist — just get out there, have fun, and take notes!

Weekend Fun at the Nelson, April

Consider the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art every Saturday and Sunday from 1-4 p.m. for FREE activities for all ages!

In April, explore the many shapes found in sculptures in the Modern and Contemporary galleries.

    • Discover how art tells stories with looking and hands-on activities in the galleries.
    • FUN Spot – Create a paper weaving inspired by designs and colors found in the African art gallery.
    • Gallery Activity – Hunt for details in elaborately patterned African fabric.

Activities and gallery locations change every two months, so visit often!

To plan your visit, see the Family Visit page.

These outings should be good for the Artastic badge.

Puppets for the Planet Festival, March and April

Join StoneLion as we celebrate the planet we live on with ART! Introducing The Puppet Canivale, a surprising interactive performance art spectacle partnering with area environmental educators, community activities and diverse performers. Each event will march in to the beat of drummers and dancers. Watch the carnivale set up and visit each side show; The Extinct Animal Train, The Tiny Tent Puppet Show, Mother Earth’s Fortune Telling Booth, The 9′ tall Green Man juggling endangered species and more…..Visit The Tattoo Man for your own ink, make a puppet at the Craft Wagon or win a prize at the Eco Wheel. Fun for all ages. Don’t be late because half the fun is seeing the carnivale arrive.

March 23, 2013 Stocksdale Park
901 S LaFrenz Rd Liberty MO
11a.m.-3 p.m.

April 6, 2013 St. Mark Family and Child Development Center
12th and Garfield Kansas City MO
11a.m.- 3 p.m.

April 20, 2013 Downtown KCMO City Market with EarthWalk
20 E. 5th Street Kansas City MO
9 a.m.-2 p.m.

April 27, 2013 Lakeside Nature Center
4701 E. Gregory Blvd Kansas City, MO 64132
10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Consider this for both Puppetry and Caring For My Environment.