• Karen Ranus

Re-centering with Nature

Updated: Aug 17


Time in nature is critical for kids’ mental and emotional health. In the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, Richard Louv cites research connecting a lack of time in nature to attention disorders, obesity, a dampening of creativity, and depression. According to Louv, “Time in nature is not leisure time; it's an essential investment in our children's health (and also, by the way, in our own).”

But with busy schedules, screens, and winter weather, it’s not always easy to find the time - or convince your kids - to go play outside. We get it. It’s ok to start small. Even a tiny daily dose of nature makes a big difference. Here are our top five recommendations to help our kids rebalance and reboot with nature - and help ourselves, too!


1: HANG A BIRD FEEDER

One mom we know says the purchase of a simple backyard bird feeder was a COVID game-changer for her family. “They didn’t even notice it until our (indoor) cats started watching the birds from the window. The cats were hilarious, and the kids all came out of their rooms to see what the cats were up to. Then they started to watch the birds and ask questions. Now we watch the feeder together. They all have the Song Sleuth app on their phones so they can identify birds, and they will go out and fill up the feeder when it’s empty without being asked. I never thought something so simple would make such a big difference.”


2. TRY SHINRIN-YOKU

The name of this Japanese practice translates to “forest bathing” or “absorbing the atmosphere of the forest,” and it’s basically a mindful walk in the woods. If you and your kids are already familiar with mindfulness, try taking it outside. Pick a local park, trail, or any place with abundant nature. When you get there, turn off your phones and agree to be quiet for a few minutes. Take deep breaths and become mindful of your five senses. Feel the wind on your skin and listen to it blowing through the trees. Walk slowly. Let your senses take in the peace and beauty of nature. Afterward, talk about what you saw and felt. Forest bathing is associated with lowered blood pressure and stress hormones in adults, and it’s a big stress-reducer for kids, too.


3. PLANT SOMETHING

Talk to your kids about what you could plant around your home - anything from a few houseplants to a fruit tree or a garden in the yard. See what sparks their curiosity. An 11-year-old told us all about her pet cactus (complete with googly eyes), and another family grows herbs for pizza in pots on their patio. Taking care of plants, much like pets, teaches kids empathy and responsibility and can help them de-stress through connection to the natural world.


4. GO GEOCACHING

We all love to solve mysteries. Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt using a smartphone app to track “caches,” or objects hidden in containers in unlikely places. Geocaching.com provides all the basics for getting started plus instructions for downloading the app. The app only gets seekers within 30 feet of a cache; after that, kids will need to turn on their detective skills and creativity to find what they are looking for. Geocaching is a totally absorbing activity for the whole family - fun, challenging, and sure to get your kids excited about nature time.

5. HANG UP SOME HAMMOCKS

A few years ago, we noticed a group of young teens hanging out with their friends in a local park - literally hanging. They had all brought hammocks and found a cozy spot between several trees to set them up together to chill on a Saturday afternoon. Hammocking or “mocking” is all about low-tech, relaxed social time. Kids can read, play games, chat, or just swing in the breeze. You can do it almost anywhere, from backyards to the park. Just make sure the park allows hammocks and go with a lightweight camping hammock like this one from Eno, so the straps don’t damage trees.

Teens need time in nature for their physical and mental well-being. It increases attention spans, creativity, problem-solving, and body awareness, and decreases stress and depression. Encouraging a connection to nature is an investment worth making. Above all, it gives them the gift of knowing that they are connected to something much larger than themselves and encourages them to be future stewards of our precious natural world.



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