By Stacy Graison, Director of Education
Go outside! You can do it! It seems like the simplest request. We all went outside as kids. In fact, many of us were told to go outside and don’t come home until dinner. Today, spending time outside everyday seems to have more challenges. It’s too hot. It isn’t safe. There isn’t enough time.
But what if I told you that each day is a missed opportunity for you to bond with your children, restore your mental state (this can happen), improve your family’s health, release some energy you and your kiddos are storing up, and so much more. Would you believe me? What if I said all of this has been proven through scientific research? What if you stop for one moment and think back to when you were 6 - when you discovered something incredible outside? Do you remember how that felt? Who were you with? What were you doing?
As adults, we all have these experiences from childhood that helped shape who we are, and that helped connect us to the world. Today, there are a million other distractions like soccer or dance practice, Game of Thrones or Paw Patrol, Minecraft or Fortnight, another Star Wars movie, and a zillion great books to read. I love all of those things too, but let me tell you why being outside is imperative and how easy it can be for you to do.
Do you ever find yourself feeling depressed? Being in nature can help depression. It can reduce your stresses and improve your health. It is a great avenue for family time without distractions (remember to leave your phone inside). This gives you the opportunity to hear your kids and see what kinds of things interest them outside. Share some of your childhood experiences with them and see if you can recreate your favorites with your children.
Being in nature can also help your children in school. It helps build social skills, skills that are foundational as children but are used the rest of your life. It helps children be creative and problem-solve. It can burn that energy they always have, lower rates of obesity, and help improve their grades and their focus. Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of research showing the benefits of nature for students living with ADHD.
One of the most important reasons to get outside with your family is to connect with nature. When you spend time in nature, you can develop strong emotional bonds with each other and with nature. You’ll experience things together that you didn’t anticipate, things that you won’t soon forget. You can develop pro-environmental behaviors- something desperately needed in today’s world. We are nature – not separate from it or looking at it from outside. We’re innately connected, through our very biology. And when we lose that connection, things happen that aren’t so good. We don’t care anymore. We slowly forget to pick up our own trash. We hear about animals needing help, but we think we’re powerless to fix it, so we let it slide. Everyday something else happens that makes the challenge of saving animals and habitats that much harder.
But…when you get into nature, you rebuild that connection. You follow an ant and are amazed at its ability to carry 10 times its body weight and wonder…where is it going? You name it. You go back the next day to find it and discover the tree the ant is climbing. Then you learn the tree was planted by the family who built your house in the 60s. It was the first tree in the yard and it gives you amazing shade. Then you snuggle up to the trunk with the kids and read a book together. Grill dinner outside and then wait for the stars to show up and try to identify them. When people start caring for the world around them, they won't leave trash on the ground. In fact, they'll pick up someone else’s trash and pass these experiences on to friends and family members. And it spreads like a virus, but the best kind of virus. And then when you hear that Florida panthers are in trouble, and they come from our backyards, you'll want to do what you can to help.
Going outside is easy. Open the door. Take a step. Then take another. Wear sunscreen because sun can be dangerous. But just go. Just start. One step at a time. Not sure what to do with your kids? Ask them- they know what to do. They’ll come up with a game in minutes. Or just sit and listen to the sounds you hear. Go for a walk and see if you can find an animal. If you find new plants or insects, see if you can draw them and try to identify them. Eventually you’ll find yourselves walking further, challenging each other like you never thought, laughing together and remembering how fun it is to just be together, without a packed agenda, even if it is just for a little bit. Try it. You’ll see. You’ll be glad you did. And so will nature. So will the animals that live there and around the world as you keep that connectedness for you and your family going.
For additional family and school resources for getting children outside, visit childrenandnature.org.