People (esp. kids) are happier and healthier spending time outdoors.
Look, you are going to spend 5 mins reading this article - instead just go schedule time in nature with your family now. You know you want to - here are 12 ideas to get you started. I give you permission to skip the rest of the article if you just schedule outdoor time right now.
Did you do it?
Maybe you aren't convinced of the benefits, let's talk...
Remember those warm summer afternoons running wild through your neighborhood? Cops and robbers or queens and kings, those were the days… Ok that was then, now back to reality.
It is easy to dismiss childhood memories as nostalgic and frivolous. We recognize that our kids are not growing up in the same cities and neighborhoods that we did. We can’t (and honestly don’t want to) recreate that quaint childhood idealization. However scientists are studying and showing that free play time outside is actually really good for people. Your happy memories and intuition that nature makes you feel better are right.
Don’t you love it when your gut feelings are backed by science.
Want to get outdoors more? Follow your intuition that nature is healthy because it turns out that time in nature not only makes you feel good, but it is good for you too - and your kids! Recent scientific studies, such as the one conducted by the Institute of Education at University College London, Children and Nature, A Research Evaluation for the Wildlife Trusts, are showing that spending time outdoors not only makes you and your kids happier but also healthier. Esteemed institutes like Harvard Medical School, University College London, University Tennessee Knoxville, North Carolina State University, and others have been researching the effects of playing outdoors and just walking in nature.
American scientists are not the only ones exploring the health benefits of time outdoors. Japan has created the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine, a research group that works closely with the their country’s government offices, the Forestry Agency and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries. Forest Bathing, known as shinrin yoku, now has significant government funded research and practices in Japan and Korea. This is an international movement, but it’s practice starts with your home. You don’t have to be halfway up a trail on Mount Fuji to receive nature benefits. A stroll under street trees or poking around a grassy plot can still impact your health in a positive way. Time in natural and wild spaces has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and lower cortisol levels. On the flip side studies are demonstrating that walking through outdoor environs improves mood, increases serotonin (known as one of the happy hormones), and boosts short-term memory.
Nature bestows super powers on our kids.
Children who have free play in nature develop finer cognitive, emotional, and physical skills than kids playing indoors or playing only on structured team sports. Pediatric occupational therapist and author of Balanced and Barefoot, Angela Hanscom, reports studies that show children who experience free play outdoors have increased problem solving skills and heightened imagination. She points out that indoor spaces come with regulations and constraints, but outdoor free play is where kids can evaluate risk and take on challenges on their own terms. This leads to a balance of courage, confidence and calm.
Go ahead and shove your kids out the backdoor to play.
Science is on your side. Better yet even join them in some nature space. It is true that kids are not going outdoors as much as kids 15, 20, 30 years ago. Urban areas have become denser, parents are more often at work with long commutes until dinner and bedtime, kids are kept in study groups or after school programs with little or no outdoor spaces and of course the all pervasive digital screens have put a wedge between our kids and nature. Some factors are less flexible like jobs and commutes, but we can show our kids that we as parents have some “no-screen times”. We can take advantage of small pockets of nature time and prioritize longer outdoor play in our calendars. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, anytime is helpful outdoors in nature according to Florence Williams, author of The Nature Fix. She reported on and participated in studies that demonstrated as little as five minutes in nature can return heightened blood pressure and stress hormones back to their base lines in kids and adults alike. Weekend or weekdays? Does not matter, just start somewhere.
Want some ideas on how to get your busy family into nature?
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References and Further Reading
Balanced and Barefoot by Angel Hanscom. New Harbinger Publications, 2016.
Children and Nature, A Research Evaluation for the Wildlife Trusts by Richard Sheldrake, Ruth Amos, and Michael J. Reiss. Institute of Education at University College London, 2019.
Forest Therapy by Dr. Qing Li. Viking Publications, 2018.
Last Child in The Woods by Richard Louv. Algonquin Books, 2005.
The Nature Fix by Florent Williams. Norton Publications, 2017.