Inside: How nature benefits your child’s development and five tips to get your child to love nature walks.
Time and time again I come across a new article touting the benefits of forest bathing or spending time in green space.
Just recently, a study showed that children who grow up with more green space around them (measured by satellite imagery), have a 55% less chance of developing mental disorders later in life.
Green space in childhood was a significant predictor even after factors like socio-economic status and family history of mental disorders
Yet, we live in a time when getting into nature is more and more difficult. Between a life filled with screens and instant gratification, long work days, and long schools days — our time spent in nature tends to fall by the wayside.
How Being in Nature Boosts Your Child’s Development: Physical, Emotional, Mental
1. Being in Nature Calms the Mind
There really is one instant fix for crankiness, cabin fever, a bad morning, a child who is stuck in tantrum land, a baby who is teething and cranky, simply…
Step Outside into Nature.
Why? Research supports this idea that our moods changes, even our brains change when we are in nature. When nothing else worked to calm my son when he was a baby and fussing, stepping outside would always help. Even if it was in the middle of the night.
Children with ADHD show milder symptoms when spending time in green spaces — spaces with plenty of green grass and trees.
Maybe it’s that open sky that helps reduce over-stimulation.
Studies have found that when people walked in a green space that activity in the areas of the brain associated with alertness, conscious processing of information and frustration lessened, while areas of the brain associated with relaxed alertness, daydreaming, and meditative states increased.
2. Spending Time in Nature Makes You Feel Good (especially stay at home moms!!)
A series of studies showed that being outside can increase a person’s psychological and physical energy– make people feel more alive.
Studies have also found improvement in mental well-being after people move to a greener area — effects that were still true three to five years after their move.
The more green space in an area, the lower the populations’ symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress.
Studies have also found that these kinds of effects are even stronger for stay at home moms.
Why? I am not sure — but perhaps it is because it has a double effect. Being outside not only lifts our moods but our children’s as well. When the kids are having fun, our daily grind is not only easier but also more enjoyable.
3. Nature Enhances Learning
Once I get my son outside, and that is no easy feat — between schedules and children’s natural resistance to transitions, I notice a change in him.
Once we get under the tall trees on the nature trail near our house, his mood lightens. He literally gets a bounce in his step.
But something else happens too — he starts to play in ways that I don’t see him do in other environments.
He whacks a stick on a tree, absorbed by the sound and then throws it into the water. Noticing the ripples, he throws another stick. Then a stone.
He starts throwing them softer and harder — experimenting and exploring — most of the time without saying a word.
He is simply immersed in nature — connected to nature in a way that seems like it has always been that way with children and the natural world.
That sense of wonder and creativity can be lost on kids in multi-media and technologically rich environments.
Researchers have found that nature soothes our brains which are constantly overstimulated by technology. After four days spent hiking in nature, creativity and performance on a difficult problem-solving task increased by 50%!
Being in nature helps to reset the mind and engage it differently. One study found that children’s cognitive development was boosted the ore time they spent in green space at school.
4. Nature Boosts Well-Being and Kindness
Spending time in nature boosts self-esteem, mood, and relaxes your cognitive intensity. Perhaps all of this de-stressing leads one to be kind and generous.
When exposed to more beautiful pictures of landscapes or beautiful indoor plants, participants were more trusting, generous and helpful.
One study showed that spending even 5-minutes outside will improve mood. That’s why when cabin fever sets in, fighting siblings, or even a fussy baby, my instant fix is to go outside.
How to Do It: 5 Tips to get Your Child to Love Nature Activities
Even when we know all of the benefits of time spent in green space it can be hard to convince your kids to love nature. Tranistions from one activitiy to another can be hard for young child — and even older children too.
I especially find it hard to transition my son from screentime to outside time.
The trick is to ease the transitions with a playful activity — once you are actually out there — nature will talk care of the rest.
1. Nature Kids Take the Lead
Being in nature allows you to step back and let your child lead.
Go to a park with a trail that isn’t next to roads or other dangers and let your child be the leader. Only do this on trails you are familiar with and that are kid-friendly (e.g., no sudden drops or dangerous areas). A short, meandering trail in a safe area is a perfect time to let your child lead.
It’s not often that they get to be the leader and this will empower them and heighten their engagement on the trails.
Let them set the pace and also when to stop and observe. They’ll point out things that you would have never have seen on your own (kids have that super-power). And they will be learning and engaging other parts of their brains.
Even before the nature
2. Nature Kids on the Hunt
Instead of saying, “let’s go for a walk.,” say,
Sometimes scavenger hunts can be to collect things for your child’s nature tray at home. Other times, it can be simply observing or listening for sounds of nature.
Look for local programs like Kids in Parks, that provide nature activities along trails, maps, and educational materials.
3. Nature Kids Observe
This sounds so simple — but next time you want to go on a nature walk and your child refuses, offer for them to take a camera and take pictures along the way.
Bringing along a magnifying glass, binoculars, or a camera can make kids really excited to go on a nature walk, a hike, or even just exploring the backyard.
Look into free nature backpacks on loan at local nature centers, libraries, or botanical gardens.
Our favorite observation tool is our Beach Aquarium — whenever we are on a trail with water, we can catch small fish. Down in the creek in our backyard my son and his friends have spent hours catching tadpoles and salamanders.
4. Nature Kids Make Nature Art
Bring along some play -dough or air-dry clay and make impressions of tree bark and objects along the trail.
Make a nature bracelet by putting some tape around your child’s wrist with the sticky part facing out. Along the way, they can gather leaves or flowers and stick them to their
Bring along a crayon and some paper and make leaf impressions.
5. Nature Kids Splash in Puddles
As my Swedish Mother-in-Law always says, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothes.”
Here in the U.S., it is far less common to buy rain pants. In Sweden, all children have these — they play outside come rain or snow!!
At our house, puddle-hunting is a family favorite — for kids and dogs alike. Even when the weather isn’t so go a short puddle-hunt walk can make a difference.
This is the secret…
When your child is inside and engrossed in their screens, they may not seem like a nature kid.
But, this is the secret… once you actually get them outside, all kids are nature kids.
They fall into rhythm with the trees and wind — as if they always knew what to do.
The binoculars, nature bracelets, scavenger hunts will entice them long enough to get them out there — but once you are really in nature, something else will take over and a new kind of play and learning will emerge– naturally — without us needing to do a thing. And that’s really how it should be.
As our kids get older — it might take a little more time — a little more immersion to get them recalibrated as nature kids. That’s when a family camping trip may be the best remedy for crankiness and disconnectedness.
No excuses now — get outside and find the nature in your kids.
“We have such a brief opportunity to pass on to our children our love for this Earth and to tell our stories. These are the moments when the world is made whole. In my children’s memories, the adventures we’ve had together in nature will always exist.” — Richard Louv