When I was a child, we moved a lot. About every 3 years until I was a senior in high school. Although we lived in many different settings from the heart of the city of Orlando, to right in the middle of miles and miles of orange groves in Eustis, Florida, we had one thing that stayed the same in each location, we played outside, a lot.
I remember drinking from the water hose, being told not to come inside until it was starting to get dark, and if we were hungry for snacks, we would eat tangerines from the tree in the backyard.
We didn’t see it as any type of punishment, nor did we ever feel unsafe or like our life was rough because we were hot and sticky in the Florida humid heat. We just played, explored, built forts, squished bugs, and pranked our friends
Things are different now. As parents we have more to consider. We live in a different world than when I grew up, where we have to have even more concern for our children’s safety, even in the best of neighborhoods. Our culture isn’t as safe as it used to be. Our lifestyle isn’t always one that will afford the freedoms of exploring outdoors all day long without the safety of an adult nearby. We have busy schedules, extracurricular activities, and lessons galore!
We also have to battle with the fact that when we do get some down time, our children’s desire to lay around in the comfort of a/c, play video games, stare at social media, and complain if they are out in the heat longer than a few minutes.
Now, add the Coronavirus to the mix and some of our favorite outdoor activities are gone. Where once we could motivate our kids to watch or play a sport, therefore getting them outside to practice and compete, now sports are limited, and so are the obligations of outdoor play. We find ourselves unsure of where to go, what to do. I’m even noticing how as a culture who was once always on the go to the next big thing, we now have to reengage our imagination to find things to do, and it’s not that easy!
On the flip side, I have noticed way more outside play/activity among our personal neighbors since things were shut down. There’s a sense of calm now that parents aren’t rushing to the next practice, event, club, or meeting. I see more families walking dogs, parents playing with their kids, and striking up conversations with neighbors that never really happened before.
In light of this, I wanted to encourage those reading this, to intentionally incorporate the outdoors while we have the time and motivation to do it. Make it a new habit that sticks, even when businesses open back up, schools reopen, parents go back to work at the office, and sports get back to normal.
Here are 6 ways that Vitamin “N,” nature, can benefit you and your children right now:
Research suggests that mood disorders can be lifted by spending more time outdoors. In an article published by Harvard Health, Research in a growing scientific field called ecotherapy has shown a strong connection between time spent in nature and reduced stress, anxiety, and depression.
Calming nature sounds and even outdoor silence can lower blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which calms the body's fight-or-flight response.
Having something pleasant to focus on like trees and greenery helps distract your mind from negative thinking, so your thoughts become less filled with worry.
Kids who play outside are smarter, happier, more attentive, and less anxious than kids who spend more time indoors. (According to recent studies published by Child Mind Institute)
It builds confidence. The way that kids play in nature has a lot less structure than most types of indoor play.
It promotes creativity and imagination. This unstructured style of play also allows kids to interact meaningfully with their surroundings. They can think more freely, design their own activities, and approach the world in inventive ways.
How much time with nature is enough?
"Anything from 20 to 30 minutes, three days a week, to regular three-day weekends in the woods is helpful," says Dr. Strauss. "The point is to make your interactions a part of your normal lifestyle." (Harvard Health)
So, what’s your part? It’s time to consider ways to incorporate the outdoors in your rhythms and routines.
Take a walk in the neighborhood after dinner each night, and meet your neighbors as you walk by.
Go to your local park on the weekends and take note of the different types of trees, flowers, and architecture around you.
Go for a bike ride at lunch and meet a friend for a picnic or lunch at an outdoor café.
You can even plan 5 minute breaks during your work time to step outside, breath the fresh air, and take a mental note of 3 new things you never noticed before.
I hope this has been helpful in opening your mind to new ways to enjoy nature and get back to your "roots." If your "roots" are full of memories of staying indoors and filled with technology, well, now is a great time to make new memories and build new ideas!
Coach Sandy Robinson
Certified Health Coach
Certified Personal Trainer
Certified Personal Fitness Chef
Publishing, H. (n.d.). Sour mood getting you down? Get back to nature. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sour-mood-getting-you-down-get-back-to-nature
Danielle Cohen is a freelance journalist in New York City. (2019, October 23). Why Kids Need to Spend Time in Nature. Retrieved August 13, 2020, from https://childmind.org/article/why-kids-need-to-spend-time-in-nature/