In the course of my work, I come across many articles that tout the benefits of being in nature. I recently came across a piece that describes extensive research being done in Japan on the benefits of a practice they call shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing (see link at the end of the article). We have intuitively known that spending time in nature is beneficial. The Japanese are working to quantify these benefits in measurable scientific terms.
The website Children & Nature Network is also at work in this field, assembling the body of research about the benefits of being in nature, particularly as it relates to childhood and child development (see link at the end of the article). Their collection of knowledge reinforces the notion that unplugging from our machines and plugging into the natural world is essential for emotional and intellectual health.
Because I have all this compelling research to goad me forward, you might think I would be a poster child for getting my kids outside. Let me just dispel that lovely, but erroneous image right now. Reality shoves its way into my family’s life too. Illness, appointments, school, fatigue, lessons—each takes a bite out of our daily schedules ‘til it seems there just isn’t enough time for anything else.
Sometimes nature time feels a lot like exercising and eating right. We know they are essential, but we are just too overloaded to even think about how to fit them in. Let me just first say, I sympathize! I offer a few manageable ideas that might help you fit a little more nature into your lives.
#1: Walk (Outside!)
Go for a stroll in the neighborhood. Park a little further away from the grocery store entrance. It’s not quite “forest bathing,” but at least you’re outside! Go to #2 to see how to add a little more nature to the experience.
#2: Pay Attention
If you set foot outside your door, I guarantee you’ll encounter some ambassador of the natural world. Have you ever noticed birds in the parking lot at the grocery store? What about the hawks perched on lampposts beside the freeway? Enjoy the way a pigeon bobs when it walks, and marvel at the delicate spikes moss puts out to release its spores. Put your hand on the trunk of a tree or in the cool green of some grass. Invite your kids to join you. Slow down long enough to connect with another living thing. It only takes a moment. This simple practice pulls us away, however briefly, from our busy existence and reminds us to look beyond ourselves.
#3: Keep a Family Nature Log
Now that you and the kids are learning to pay attention, keep track of what you see. Keep a list on the refrigerator door or in the car. It will serve as another reminder to notice the dandelion sneaking up through a crack in the concrete or the ladybug that lands briefly on your shoulder.
#4: Let Nature Drag You Down an Unplanned Path
We were on our way out the door one school morning when we encountered a mother raccoon and her babies heading behind our shed. Of course, everything stopped and we peeked excitedly around the corner to see them hiding. Yes, I had to get tardy slips from the office, but it was worth it. It’s so easy to get caught up in what we’re “supposed” to do—the really important stuff often comes disguised as an annoying interruption.
#5: Don’t Try to Reinvent the Wheel
The internet is full of people posting great ideas for outside activities. You don’t have to think of them yourself. Come to think of it, neither do I! Here are a few great websites to get you started:
Nature Rocks: http://www.naturerocks.org/about.aspx
* Nature Rocks is The Nature Conservancy’s family nature website. Every season they come out with an activity guide packed with outdoor fun. They also have a database of ideas—enter the amount of time you have, your favorite location (backyard, park, trail, etc.) and the age of your children. It will spit out a list of ideas tailored for your setting and age group!
Go Explore Nature: http://www.goexplorenature.com/
* Go Explore Nature is the brainchild of Debi, a Los Angeles area Mom and blogger. She regularly posts lists of outside activities
Play Outside! http://theplayfiles.blogspot.com.au/
* Play Outside is a collection of outdoor play ideas from bloggers around the world. It is maintained by Jenny Kable, and early childhood educator in Australia who writes the Let the Children Play blog.
#6: Give Yourself a Break
You know the dad down the street that takes his kids for daily bike rides or the mom you met online who daily dishes about the elaborate activities she plans for her children. Don’t try to be them. Chances are they see something in you they wish they could emulate. We need to fit more nature time into our lives, but it needs to be done in a way that fits into our lives. Try a few activities. Figure out which ones work for you. If something doesn’t work, let it go. Life is too short to try to be everyone else.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with nature I need to keep. But first, I need to get dressed!