How Nature Helps to Create Calmer, Healthier & Smarter Children

We've always felt in our gut that our children thrive in an outside environment.  Still, it's easy to forget sometimes during the morning or evening routine just how quickly a change of environment can help a child to come out of a funky mood.  Sometimes when you're in that moment of dealing with the tantrum or an argument, it can be hard to remember that you have options.  In addition to that, as we've been traveling, there's been times where we didn't have a yard or were in a massive city where it definitely makes it tough to hit pause and step outside.  But when you do find the time to connect your children with nature, their demeanor can change almost instantaneously.  Even just as simple as stopping, pausing and stepping out onto a balcony or porch with your child can turn the entire day or night around.

When it comes to getting our children outside on a regular basis, we understand that many families don't have yards. Even if they do, when they try to send their kids outside, there's often no one to play with. And most parents worry that they have to stay outside with them to keep them safe.

So most kids spend most of their time inside.  As a result, the average American fifth grader, given a choice, prefers to stay inside, close to electrical sockets and all the entertainment sources they power.

Children need fresh air and exercise. We all do. Families who find ways to be outdoors together nurture not only their bodies, but their connection to all of life -- and to each other.  Children who spend time outside in nature, research shows, are:

  • Calmer - This is particularly important for ADHD kids because it lowers their need for medication, but fresh air soothes the senses of all children.
  • Happier - Studies show sunshine, fresh air and physical activity all encourage good moods and reduce tendencies toward depression.
  • Healthier - Many kids who don't get enough time outdoors are Vitamin D deficient, affecting health and mood. Indoor air is also usually less healthy. 
  • Less likely to be overweight - Pediatricians recommend at least an hour of active physical play daily during childhood to protect against obesity and diabetes. 
  • Better vision - K ids who play outdoors more have better vision and less need for eyeglasses. Until recently, we thought that was simply because they stare at screens less. But it turns out that Vitamin D plays a role. And the latest research indicates that exposure to light is important for healthy eye function.*
  • Better students - Research shows that kids who play outdoors actually have longer attention spans, more frustration tolerance, and do better in school. Kids even do better on tests if they are allowed to play first. It's not just that it gets their wiggles out. It's all that oxygen to the brain. 
  • More creative - Outdoor play is often less structured than what kids do indoors with technology, so kids exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

The answer to our nature deprived modern lives? Set your life up so your child can be outdoors. We know that usually children

 won't be able to be outdoors without parents.  So parents need to get outside, too.

First, set up any outdoor space you have access to so that it's inviting, and spend time outside with your child. A sandbox, wading pool, swing, climbing structure or garden will keep your child entertained for hours. But if permanent structures aren't possible, think impermanent: A tablecloth teepee or a bucket of water with funnels and cups, or a shovel to dig a hole you can later refill.

Second, spend time as a family in nature -- hiking, playing tag, biking, simply walking together in a beautiful place. It allows your family to regroup and get back in sync. It makes wonderful memories. And it's a great workout for everyone.

This doesn't have to be a big production. If you're lucky enough to have your own yard, you have unlimited options, from kicking a ball around to camping out in a tent. But every city has public parks, and every family can find something to do outside that feels fun. Two important ground rules:

Turn off the cell phones. Yours. Theirs. REALLY. Enough said, I hope! The world will be waiting for you when you get back. This is quality time to focus on family. Soon enough, your child will want to be with friends, not with you. Enjoy this time to connect.

If you choose to engage in a sport, minimize the competition in favor of the fun. Make sure the rules are relaxed for little ones so everyone enjoys themselves.

If you're stuck for ideas, here are some suggestions...

1. Take a blanket, snacks and a ball or frisbee to the park.

Play kickball or soccer or catch. Blow bubbles. Play tag.

2. Go on a family bike ride.

This gets better and better as kids get older, but you can rent tandem bikes when they're young.

3. Go on a nature walk.

Collect rocks or leaves. Look for animal footprints. Watch bugs. But remember, soaking up the smells, sounds and sights is sufficient. You don't need to take your child out of her heart and into her head by giving her a science lecture. If she asks questions, by all means follow her natural curiosity, and help her look up answers when she gets home. But sometimes watching a butterfly is more transformative than reading about it.

4. Send kids on a scavenger hunt.

Keep it simple, like:

something red
something tiny
something that moves
something bigger than your hand
something that bends
something beautiful.
Make sure everyone wins!

5. Get wet.

Give kids water and they'll find ways to play with it. Invite the neighborhood kids over for a water party. Set up the sprinkler and cut up a watermelon.

6. Try a night walk.

Bring flashlights for fun and safety, but be sure to turn them off for listening to the nature sounds and star gazing.

7. Fires are magic. 

If you have a safe place for a campfire, don't miss the opportunity to sit outside telling stories of when you were a kid, or what your kids did when they were younger. Sing songs. Roast marshmallows, make s'mores. Don't forget to just relax in silence and watch the fire. (Do you have a little pyromaniac who wants to build the fire? This is the perfect opportunity to teach safety and let your child wield the matches.) 

These are the memories your children will treasure as they get older. And every child deserves the connection nature provides to the essence of life. You're feeding your child's soul as well as her body.

 

Parts of this blog are sourced from: http://www.ahaparenting.com.  We highly recommend this website as a great parenting source.