Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, cites that children today are becoming more and more removed from the outdoors and nature, which comes at the expense of their physical and psychological well-being. Instead of spending time outdoors, kids are spending most of their time in structured environments or behind an illuminated screen. Louv shares that nature has extraordinary benefits, some of which include improved concentration, exercise, and greater ability to engage in creative play. Spending time in nature is even able to an aid in mental illness, particularly depression and ADHD. Furthermore, kids who spend more time outdoors are said to develop better coordination and motor fitness, as well as greater mental acuity, sustained intellectual development and inventiveness. Unplug and spend more time out in nature with these tips.
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Make it a priority to make time for outdoor play. This can be as simple as nightly or weekly outdoor walks on a nearby trail or neighborhood green space. Research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that kids spend, on average, 45 hours behind a screen each week. Your kids need a break from all of that screen time. And chances are, you do too. Take a frisbee along on your walk or non-tech toys that can inspire creative play.
In this case, it’s a good thing to be curious. Inspire curiosity by showing your own excitement for nature and the outdoors. Consider starting a backyard garden. Even if you’ve never tried your hand at gardening and don’t quite fancy yourself as having green thumb, this outdoor hobby can allow you and your child to learn, grow and discover answers to questions that you didn’t know before. A garden also gives you the opportunity to teach your child about food.
Pick a nature spot, any spot, and return to it every so often. Doing so allows you and your child to observe the changing of the seasons and cycles of life. Take a trip to the country or find a green space near your home to try this out. Visiting the same fishing hole every three months or so can do the trick. Pack up your fishing gear, apply the sunscreen and head out to nature. This can allow for repetitive sensory stimulation that can give children a more connected feeling to nature.
Ignite the senses on your family nature walk. Whether a leisurely walk in the park or a moderate hike on the trail, use this time spent outdoors to discuss the five senses: sound, sight, touch, smell and taste. Take a moment every few minutes to ask your child what they sense in that particular spot. It could be hearing the sound of birds chirping or touching a smooth, round rock.
Remember, not all time spent outdoors has to be a lesson or a learning experience. Introduce your child to the wonders of nature first, then start creating learning experiences. It is critical to make time for unstructured outdoor play. Let your kids be kids. Let your son dip his toes into a cold creek. Allow your daughter to get mud on her boots. Let your children pick flowers. Let them explore all that nature has to offer.
Lauren Topor full-time freelance writer and alumna of Arizona State University. Her professional work has appeared in a variety of publications from lifestyle mags to business websites. Follow Lauren on Twitter @laurentopor.